Manding traditional cordophons




(donso) bolon


Great harp of the hunters (donso) with 3 to 6 strings, according to the circumstance.




Medium bridged harp, initially build for young musicians.


Photo © Mandinka magic

« In the very beginning of the seventies, a profane version of the donso n'goni appears. Who was the first to have the idea? History has retained several names : Alata Broulaye, Fadougou Seydou, Yacouba Koné, Satigué Sidibé. One thing is certain : they are all very young and out to have a good time. On moonlight evenings and in their village parties, they attempted to use the donso n'goni to get the women dancing, but the hunters accused them of desacralizing an instrument reserved for males and heroic sagas.


So they constructed a similar instrument, but with different chords. All is not without its rough patches. Satigui Sidibé, nineteen years old at the time, is expelled from the brotherhood of hunters for one year, and then is readmitted. »


That instrument has a low-pitched sound ; by the way, the low keytones are used for the bass line in melody or the song. As it has been upgraded 6 to 12 strings, the kamalen' koni is the favorite instrument of the Manding youth today, as you can note its first etymology and function : kamalen means “young”. See singers and multi-instrumentalists like Mangala, , Tom Diakite or Issa Bagayogo for example.




Lute of the Manding old musical tradition.

It is the instrument king of the classical Manding music. The n'koni is a melodic instrument coming from the Fulani people, used since antiquity by that ethnic group. In the beginning, it was made with a single string and was probably created by the shepherds using it for entertainment when they followed the transhumance of their flocks.


Gradually, probably in the Middle Ages, the n'koni has been enhanced by the Manding jelílua jèlí (plural, jèlílu) is a bard, loremaster, and praise-singer in the Manding areas whose functions are story-telling, speaking about lineages, singing and playing music as he want and hear it... Read more.  who transformed it into a four-stringed instrument ; since 1342, the n'koni is quoted by Al Ûmari and also a about twenty years later by Ibn Battuta.

Since that time, the n'koni is naturaly 4 stringed, today.


There are 2 main categories of n'koni :


the n'koni mincin

(high n'koni )

Music instruments from Fouta-Djallon - Engraving (Detail) - © BNF / Gallica

the n'koni ba

(low bass n'koni)

“The griot” (postcard from Mali)

According to the strict tradition, only jelílua jèlí (plural, jèlílu) is a bard, loremaster, and praise-singer in the Manding areas whose functions are story-telling, speaking about lineages, singing and playing music as he want and hear it... Read more. who are able to master this instrument can be honoured with the title of “Jèlíbà”, i.e. “Great Master Griot”. Thus were called Sory Kandia Kouyate (Guinea) or Banzûmana Sissoko (Mali).


In our time, famous nkonifolálu (n'koni masters) are Moriba Koïta Moriba Koita is a very great n'konifála, native of Kita (Mali) - the cradle of jelilu great dynasties, very famous in his country and all around the world... Read more., Makan Badjé Tounkara and Bassekou KouyatéInheritance is the best source of inspiration and Bassekou Kouyate drank to limpid sources. Born in 1966 in Garana (Tamani, prefecture of Baréouli), his father Mustapha Kouyaté was certainly the best n'goni player of the region... Read more., for example.

A player of n'koni is called in Mandenka, nkonifolá (who is able to make the n'koni talk) - nkonifolàlù, plural.


the n'goni

David Gilden's web site


simbi or sin(g)bing


Sometimes called donsobolon by amalgam, that instrument is a kind of harp used by hunters ; initially it has been six stringed.


Today, the simbi is seven stringed.

According to some specialists, the kora would have been the result of that ritual instrument but modified and /or upgraded.


Music instruments from Fouta-Djallon - Engraving ( Detail) - © BNF /Gallica

“I must add a list of their music instruments, the main one being : the kounting, a kind of three-string guitar ; the korro, a large eighteen-string harp ; the simbing, a small harp with seven string...”

Mungo Park, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa [bibliography]




Oldest illustration of the simbing - © BNF / Gallica

First seen in West Africa near the end of 18th and middle of 19th century, the kora never ended fascinating people of all world, since now. That very versatile and modern instrument has been, constantly, modified and adapted since 2 centuries.


Until now, the exact origin of kora is uncertain.






Viele played with a bow made of hair of a horse.




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