The origins of the kora : tales and history

 

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First mention about kora

  Hypothesis

 

The first historical mention about kora came from Mungo Park ; in 1793, he explored Mali and Senegal to visit Timbuktu, the mythical city (that he did not reach). His travel lasted for two years and a half. He reported his route in his book, Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa (1795-1797). In his work, he describes the kora : « the korro, a great eighteen stringed harp. »

 

Legends and reality

 

The kora became so famous in the XXth century that there are now many legends about its origin ; each country of the Manding world tried to adapt it while associating various prestigious patronymic names.

 

Nevertheless, these legends have these common topics :

 

dot the name of Tiramanghan, General of SundjataSundiata faasa is the most famous song of the Manding tradition. This song is also known under the title of The Anthem of the Bow or Simbo... Read more ;

 

dot the name of Djeli Mady Wuleng, the first jčlíjčlí (plural, jčlílu) are bards, loremasters, and praise-singers in the Manding areas whose functions are story-telling, speaking about lineages, singing and playing music as they want and hear it. whose name is still linked to the origin of kora ; about the word « jčlíjčlí (plural, jčlílu) are bards, loremasters, and praise-singers in the Manding areas whose functions are story-telling, speaking about lineages, singing and playing music as they want and hear it. », see « art of the jčlílua jčlí (plural, jčlílu) 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. » ;

 

dot the idea of innovation according to the sonority of this instrument.

 

Legend from Mali

 

  That legend enhances the patronymic name of Traore (Tira Manghan faasa « Tira Maghan » is a song from the praising verses of « Tira Maghan faassa » devoted to the hunter hero, great bowman, allied to the founder of the Manden Empire, Sundjata. Tradition tells that « Tira Maghan faassa » had been completed and sung by Sundjata himself after the affront of Jolofin Mansa... Read more.) and Diabate (Djelimaly Oule), patronymic names which are widely spread out in Mali.

 

It seems that the kora was discovered by Tira Manghan  « Tira Maghan » is a song from the praising verses of « Tira Maghan faassa » devoted to the hunter hero, great bowman, allied to the founder of the Manden Empire, Sundjata. Tradition tells that « Tira Maghan faassa » had been completed and sung by Sundjata himself after the affront of Jolofin Mansa... Read more., General of SundjataSundiata faasa is the most famous song of the Manding tradition. This song is also known under the title of The Anthem of the Bow or Simbo... Read more, who gave it to one of his companions griotsa jčlí (plural, jčlílu) 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., Djelimaly Oule Diabate.

 

According to that tale, the very first kora was the instrument of a genius female who lived in the caves of Kansala, located now in Republic of Gambia.(1)

 

Tira Manghan  « Tira Maghan » is a song from the praising verses of « Tira Maghan faassa » devoted to the hunter hero, great bowman, allied to the founder of the Manden Empire, Sundjata. Tradition tells that « Tira Maghan faassa » had been completed and sung by Sundjata himself after the affront of Jolofin Mansa... Read more. enamoured by the music of this instrument decided to steal it from the genius-female. With the help of his hunting companions Waly Kelendjan and Djelimaly Oule Diabate, he took up the instrument which was given at last to Djelimaly, the griot of the group. It happened in the village of « Berekolong » ; that village was founded by Tira Manghan  « Tira Maghan » is a song from the praising verses of « Tira Maghan faassa » devoted to the hunter hero, great bowman, allied to the founder of the Manden Empire, Sundjata. Tradition tells that « Tira Maghan faassa » had been completed and sung by Sundjata himself after the affront of Jolofin Mansa... Read more. near 1260.

 

  Djelimaly handed it down to his son Kamba. Thus, it was passed from fathers to sons until Tilimaghan Diabate, the jčlíjčlí (plural, jčlílu) are bards, loremasters, and praise-singers in the Manding areas whose functions are story-telling, speaking about lineages, singing and playing music as they want and hear it.  who introduced the kora in Mali.

source : Afribone Mali 's web site
 

Legend from N'Gabu

 

The legend refering to Tiramaghan's name seems closer to the historical reality. Moreover, it gives the etymology of the word «kora ». Note : here, the patronymic name of the jeli is « Cissoko ».

« The history of kora is linked the famous name of Jalijčlí (plural, jčlílu) are bards, loremasters, and praise-singers in the Manding areas whose functions are story-telling, speaking about lineages, singing and playing music as they want and hear it. Mady Fouling Cissoko, son of the no less famous Jali Bamba Cissoko who came from Manding and visited king Luntan Mane, the first descendant and heir of Touramakhan Traore. Gabou was then a very rich city where arts took the highest developpement. This is where Jali Mady Wouleng Cissoko heard of a mysterious lake called Sanementin : rumour had on it that there was a genius who granted the whishes of people. So he went to the lake, met the genius and asked him to invent a new instrument that no griot owned or had ever owned. The genius accepted in the condition that Jali Mady would give him sister Djanghan Sakilibu Cissoko. As she would be informed of the deal, she agreed to the sacrifice and offered herself to the genius for the glory of her brother. Then, Jali Mady came back to the lake where he found a strange instrument made of a big gourd, wood and strings. The genius shout out : « Föly fčng kora» i.e. : in Manika tongue : « New or recent ? » and said : « Play on (it)! ». This is how the kora was born in N'Gabu, according to the legend, and it became one of the most appreciated instruments of West Africa. »

source : booklet notes CD by M'Bady and Diaryatou Kouyate, Guinea : Kora and Songs of N'Gabu
 

Hypothesis on historical origins

  Legend

 
© Korafola from the past - LBerté - 2010

dot Admittedly, the most authoritative version is that kora would have appeared with the apogee of the warchiefs princes « ńyancho » from the kingdom of N'Gabu (areas of the current Guinea-Bissau, upper Gambia and upper and middle Casamance), near the middle of the XVIII° century. (2)

 

dot One century later, in the middle of the XIX°, the instrument was popularized thanks to Koryang Moussa, a disciple of legendary Djeli Madi Wuleng, who first sang the high feats of gabunke knight-condottierre, Kelefa Sane.

It seems that Koryang Moussa has been the korafoláA kora player is called korafolá (who is able to make the kora talk) - korafolálu, plural.  who has widdened the kora spectrum to its ultimate degree for he added 2 or 3 (?) strings in order to create an exact ambitus of 3 octaves offering more possibilities of tuning and ranges. (3)

 
(1) About «Kansala», see the songs «Bani» and «Kedo». [back to text]
(2) About the «ńyancho» princes, see the song «Kedo». [back to text]
(3) About «Kelefa Sane», see the song «Kelefa Ba».

SidikiAfter the World War War II, the kora was popularized world wide by Sidiki Diabate (1922~1996) and Jeli Madi Sissoko, two kora virtuosos, coming from Gambia. Pioneers, they felt certain that the « jčlíya » was offering them the best chance to head up Mandenka political and cultural legacies occulted since such a long time by colonizers... Read more. & Toumani DiabateToumani Diabaté is the son of the legendary korafolá Sidiki Diabaté .Virtuoso korafolá, Toumani Diabate has much contributed to make known the kora all around the world and by his original meetings opened of new ways to the music. (Nago Seck)... Read more. (RTM)

 

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