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Playing the complex West African instrument called the kora – 60 Minutes

Described as a cross between a harp, a lute, and a guitar, the kora is a part of a musical custom that dates again to the thirteenth-century Mali Empire, which stretched throughout a lot of West Africa. The custom has been handed down from father to son — man to man — in a particular set of households ever since. 

Until now. 

Musician (*60*) Jobarteh was born into a kind of 5 households, called griots. The daughter of a Gambian father and British mom, she is the first griot lady to play the kora professionally. It is difficult to imagine, watching this musical pioneer’s mastery of the instrument, that in line with the guidelines handed down for hundreds of years, she was not alleged to play it.

Instead, Jobarteh is one in all the foremost kora gamers in the world. 

“She’s phenomenal,” stated Banning Eyre, a musicologist and senior producer of the radio present Afropop Worldwide. “She’s fantastic. Her dexterity is second to none. The flow, the speed — there’s just nothing to compare with her. She’s right up there with the very best ones.”

Jobarteh’s mastery of the kora is a feat made much more outstanding when contemplating how complex the instrument is. 

Constructed from a kind of gourd called a calabash, koras usually have 21 strings. The strings will be troublesome to maintain in tune, notably when the instrument, historically performed in the steadily heat climate of Africa, experiences chilly climates. To fight this temperature problem and be capable of carry her kora round the world, Jobarteh has innovated in how she builds the instrument’s neck. Rather than utilizing conventional leather-based rings to carry her strings in place, Jobarteh makes use of steel tuning heads.

The strings themselves are performed with simply the thumb and forefinger, a way that requires notable dexterity. The thumbs play the bass notes, appearing one thing like a rhythm part, and the forefingers play the melody. 

Although she has studied the instrument for years and now performs round the world, Jobarteh stated she doesn’t but really feel she has “mastered” the kora.

“I like to say what my grandfather said, which is that ‘I wish you will die a learner,’ that you never come to a point where you can say, ‘I know it,’ or, ‘I’ve mastered it,'” Jobarteh stated. “But you’re always learning. And that’s how I like to think about it.”

The video above was initially revealed on November 13, 2022 and was produced by Shari Finkelstein, Brit McCandless Farmer, and Will Croxton. It was edited by Will Croxton. 

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