Dapoya II is a neighbourhood in the north of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso where many Malinke families live. There was a wedding in one of these families. From a distance, you could hear the sound of a high-pitched instrument accompanied by a balafon. The rhythm was captivating and the melody was dreamy. Everybody was heading in that direction and I could not resist. I went into the garden and got as close as I could to the musicians in order to satisfy my curiosity.

That is when I saw this majestic instrument for the first time. For this reason, I chose to write about the kora right away since I was attracted by its impressive shape and its soft and soothing music. The kora is made from a gourd sound box with a long neck and many strings. It is an instrument that can adapt itself to all kinds of music. The kora has gone through many transformations. Music lovers are becoming increasingly demanding which is why it has been necessary to incorporate modern tools into its construction.

"Griots" or wandering musicians use this traditional instrument to accompany themselves. Organologically, the kora is classified as a harp-lute because it possesses feat Read More
Dapoya II is a neighbourhood in the north of Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso where many Malinke families live. There was a wedding in one of these families. From a distance, you could hear the sound of a high-pitched instrument accompanied by a balafon. The rhythm was captivating and the melody was dreamy. Everybody was heading in that direction and I could not resist. I went into the garden and got as close as I could to the musicians in order to satisfy my curiosity.

That is when I saw this majestic instrument for the first time. For this reason, I chose to write about the kora right away since I was attracted by its impressive shape and its soft and soothing music. The kora is made from a gourd sound box with a long neck and many strings. It is an instrument that can adapt itself to all kinds of music. The kora has gone through many transformations. Music lovers are becoming increasingly demanding which is why it has been necessary to incorporate modern tools into its construction.

"Griots" or wandering musicians use this traditional instrument to accompany themselves. Organologically, the kora is classified as a harp-lute because it possesses features of both the lute (it is plucked with the right hand) and the harp (it has perpendicular strings with a resonator). It is undoubtedly the best known of all African stringed instruments. It seems the kora has existed since the beginning of the Middle Ages but its expansion dates from the Mali empire (1240s). It is used to celebrate heroes in very rich and moving instrumental forms. It is made from half of a large gourd covered with goat or calf skin stretched by leather laces (the skin is now held in place by pegs or pins). The skin is perforated by two handles that the player uses to hold the kora and a stick runs through the gourd across the middle of the skin perpendicular to the two handles and the bridge. The strings are joined to the bridge (formerly 7 strings but now 21) by circles of steer-hide thongs. As the kora evolved, the rings were gradually replaced by hardwood keys or guitar keys. The strings were once made from twisted skin but are now made of nylon. The kora player, generally seated with crossed legs with the kora in front of him, holds the instrument by its two stick handles leaving the thumbs and index fingers free to pluck the strings like a harp. The Gambian musician Djeli Madi Woulendi improved the instrument’s range by increasing the number of strings from 7 to 21.

There is a story that the kora was actually invented in Gambia in Talitodembakounda. It takes at least ten years to learn how to play the kora properly. It is very difficult to make and tune. The kora is played in Mali, Guinea, Senegal, the Casamance area, in Gambia and in Guinea Bissau. It originated with the Mandingo culture of Senegal and this is why its various tunings are related to Mandingo songs. Each ethnic group adapts it to suit its own tunes.

The kora can be tuned to the following scales:

1. SAOUTA ("Socés" scale from Casamance) with the fourth degree raised by a chromatic semitone; the same as the hypolydian mode.

F G A B C D E F

2. MANDÉKA is the leading-note scale that the Mandingo themselves use and call niani, kirina, kangaba…

F G A B( C D E( F

3. SIM’BI is the name of a Mandingo arched harp and the scale used most often for songs about heroes.

F G A( B C D( E F

4. SILABA, a scale in F F (minor) G A B( C D E

5. TOMORA F (minor) G A( B( C D E(

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Kora (Harp-Lute)

Kora (harp-lute)

Burkina Faso Cultural Heritage Branch

Ouagadougou, BURKINA FASO
gourd, goat skin, nails, wood, guitar keys and nylon strings
© Burkina Faso Cultural Heritage Branch


The kora is the most typical instrument of the music of the Malinké from an international point of view. It is the most sophisticated of the African harps. Its twenty-one strings give it a range of more than three octaves on a seven-tone scale. Bells mounted on the end of the wood to which the strings are attached define the tone of the instrument.

Development of the kora's repertoire is in full swing, since it is a source of inspiration for renowned contemporary musicians who are constantly writing new compositions for it. The kora can be played on its own or in conjunction with other instruments such as the xylophone, the guitar, the jenbé, etc. In Mali, Senegal, Guinea and Gambia, the kora is played mainly by witchdoctors and their families.


The kora is the most typical instrument of the music of the Malinké from an international point of view. It is the most sophisticated of the African harps. Its twenty-one strings give it a range of more than three octaves on a seven-tone scale. Bells mounted on the end of the wood to which the strings are attached define the tone of the instrument.

Development of the kora's repertoire is in full swing, since it is a source of inspiration for renowned contemporary musicians who are constantly writing new compositions for it. The kora can be played on its own or in conjunction with other instruments such as the xylophone, the guitar, the jenbé, etc. In Mali, Senegal, Guinea and Gambia, the kora is played mainly by witchdoctors and their families.


© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Kora Burkina Faso: Audio

Kora Burkina Faso: Audio

Canadian Heritage Information Network
Canadian Heritage Information Network, Centre des recherches et études andalouses, Centre des musiques arabes et méditerranéennes Ennejma Ezzahra, Musée de la musique, Laboratoire de recherche des musiques du monde, Musée acadien de l'Université de Moncton, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Musée d'art et d'archéologie de l'Université d'Antananarivo, Musée ethnographique Alexandre Sènou Adande, Musée national du Mali, St. Boniface Museum, Lycée de langues étrangères Alexandre Dumas, Museum of the Romanian Peasant

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Kora Mali: Audio

Kora Mali: Audio

Canadian Heritage Information Network
Canadian Heritage Information Network, Centre des recherches et études andalouses, Centre des musiques arabes et méditerranéennes Ennejma Ezzahra, Musée de la musique, Laboratoire de recherche des musiques du monde, Musée acadien de l'Université de Moncton, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Musée d'art et d'archéologie de l'Université d'Antananarivo, Musée ethnographique Alexandre Sènou Adande, Musée national du Mali, St. Boniface Museum, Lycée de langues étrangères Alexandre Dumas, Museum of the Romanian Peasant

© 1999, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.


Learning Objectives

The learner will:

  • Understand that music is an expression in all cultures
  • Understand that the relationship between personal feelings and music transcends borders and cultures
  • Develop respect for music from a variety of cultural contexts
  • Examine traditional music practices in selected Francophone countries
  • Demonstrate geographical awareness by identifying Francophone countries
  • Be aware of the musical contributions of various cultural groups in their own community
  • Understand that all world music can be organized within a standard classification system

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