The International Kora Fiesta at a glance
Wednesday, April 04, 2012
All minds and eyes are set awaiting a 2-week International
Kora Festival organized by a Gambian international legend music promoter cum
producer – Oko Drammeh.
The festival will be staged later this month at Brikama village, West Coast Region. The festival is expected to attract professional kora musicians from Gambia and across West Africato this woodworking musical village to play and entertain guests and visitors with their plucked 21-string kora.
One of the ancient musical instruments to originat from West
Africa without dilute and solely play to entertain guests, visitors and people
in social occasions is Kora. It is an ancient instrument that has a unique
style of playing with a characteristic and velvet sound. Kora is a popular and
common instrument among member of the professional Jali caste of Mandinka. It
is played with both a rhythm and a melody lines.
The origin of this unique and choice of West African traditional music lovers can be traced back to about thirteenth century ago; though the instrument has changed a little in the last eight hundred years, or thereabout. This is because of one notable modification that took place in the early 1950’s when the preference turned from strings made of finely twisted strips of antelope hide to nylon fishing line, which remains the standard today.
The renaissance of kora in the form of a festival will
showcase its origin and significance. This is backed by the fact that the
21-string instrument is the key musical instrument that is identical to The
Gambia and has its roots in the country as mentioned in the “ROOTS” a book
authored by Alex Haley.
Among questions that always come to the mind of people when
listening to the tune is who are these kora musicians sometimes called Jali?
They are hereditary musicians, singers, public speakers and entertainers; oral
historians without book; praise singers.
Jelis represent the collective memory of Western Africa hence there is no story, history or knowledge of thing that escape their minds. In spite of them without book they are living libraries of African culture, as they possess vast repertoires of compositions detailing family lineages, historical epics, and cultural commentary.
Jelis therefore are the field of music most closely associated with the ruling field of music most closely associated with the ruling Mandika elite and always played in the open courtyard where everyone will dance and enjoy to the fullest. There is no special dancing step for kora because it is a lively and circular music meant to inspire listeners to take moral and constructive actions as far as entertainment is concerned.
Kora music as gone wide and far beyond Africa, it has become
yawning music of the west especially among the Dutch, Scandinavia even some
parts in States have crave for it.
Of all the instruments that have helped in defining African traditional music, none maybe more iconic than the 21-string kora, which is one among the reasons Oko Drammeh is putting together this ever first edition International Kora Festival in Brikama this year and would be annual festival to come. This music legend promoter in his own words described kora music as a spry, agile, feathery thing because it sounds as if they are dancing it across a pool of still water. However, in the hands of a master, a kora can take you across the full range of human emotion.
This first edition of International Kora Festival will justify the doubting Thomas, as many will stand a chance to listen to old West African’s soul music in an ambience that will last longer in your memory in term of traditional and cultural music entertainment. This is because as kora is instrument of Jeli, then traditional storyteller whose songs and stories formed the oral histories in the ages and present will all converge in Brikama to bring both Africa and non-Africa back to the memory lane. This is because as English have their bards so Africa have its Jelis.
During the upcoming
International Kora Festival, you will experience and enjoy all the four named
traditional tuning in use when it comes to kora music. The tuning of Tomoraba
called great Tomora and it is also known as Siliba and it is the original kora
tuning and the one, which the oldest kora songs are played. Another tune is
Tomora mesengo, Hardino and Sauta.
Hence kora players across West Africa will be participating in this festival it is good to know that Tomoraba is predominant in the Casamance and western Gambia; while Tomora Mesengo and Hardino are predominant in eastern Gambia with Sauta prevailing in Mali. The festival will definitely favour all lovers of music especially kora music lovers as they would have opportunity to see how it play, dance and how the instrument is usually tune to match the range of the vocalist who may or may not be the player himself.
However, it is worth knowing that praise singers, poetries, historians are everywhere to entertain and refresh our minds. They have different names depend on individual origin. Example in French we called them Griot; Arabic – Qawwal; Wolof either in Senegal or Gambia called them Gewel; Fula people called them Gawlo; in Europe they are Troubadours and English called them Bards.
Throughout the two weeks of this festival you will learn and
see how kora musicians perform in social gathering like marriage and naming
ceremony, religious feast; house warming; and some other private occasions
where they are invited. You will hear different entertaining stories as you
never heard in the past because kora music players are full of actions and
creativity. This is because they are musical virtuosity and mastery of words
that reminds the glorious and heroic past of ones lineages or families.
As you can see old and middle age griots and kora player so
also you will see a young griot and kora player of 5-year because education of
the young griot and kora player is hereditary and they always start at age of
five most. As they are growing up they become mastering of the instrumental
Kora music is more modernized than in the past as you can see kora player introduced some other instrument to their band. However, as you can see one-man band so you will see two or more as well you can equally see many full kora music bands. They are now popular that they are exporting their music beyond Africa.
The main objectives of Oko Drammeh in promoting and bringing to the limelight the International Kora Festival is to turn Brikama to the focal point of Kora Music, in much the same way as New Orleans is the focal point for jazz and Memphis is the world’s blues Mecca.
It is confirmed by the legend promoter himself that among the artists for the maiden edition of this International Kora Festival are the Gambia’s Kora maestro Jaliba Kuyateh, Sona Jobarteh, the only female Gambian Kora-playing musician who is based in the United Kingdom; Alhagi Malamin Jobarteh, Dembo Conte, Sekou Saho, Momodou Susso, Tata Ding Ding, Jali Kebba, Neneh Suso, Sambou Suso, Lamin Saho, and Alhagi Mbye, amongst others.
Jali Malamin Jobarteh, Dembo Conte and Kawsu Kuyateh are well known around the world in the world tours and festival appearances and in the recordings in the UK with album titles like Jali Roll" and Jaliology will be present in hosting the Kora Festival as the emblem of the occasion. The main attraction and headline of the festival is Gambia's most popular and the world-renowned maestro Jaliba Kuyateh.
As visitors are expecting more entertainment so also the
festival will cover as well conference, seminar, traditional music
performances, film night, lectures, symposium, workshop, festival stage and
art-market place. Hence the venue is Brikama, the festival will not be
centralized just only in one place venue but in different locations including
the University of The Gambia, the Gambia College, the Jerma Hall, the Gambia
Museum, Arch 22, Brikama Stadium and the Alliance-Franco Gambien.
This is because the festival has planned to be annual event where people will not only enjoy but also learn.And it is aims to attract large number of tourists and adventurous travelers to The Gambia during the festival to boost our economy and the tourism industry with a lasting value.
Apart from the objectives it is purposely meant to further
exhibit our valued heritage because kora is becoming an endangered species like
the ‘rainforest’ disappearing fast. Therefore it is a tradition that must be
preserved for future generation. Another thing is that the children of Kora
players are now engaged in finance and trade and other instructional work as
they are walking away from playing Kora because they do not see the financial
benefits and the respect for being a Kora player.
The festival will stand
chance to restore the pride and dignity of kora griots and bring to the front
their role and importance to society. The festival will use to pay tribute to
the list of forgotten and abandoned kora maestros that have passed away. They
are people like Alhagi Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, Alhagi Bai Conte, Jali Nyama
Suso, Jali Bakary Jobarteh, Wandfeng Jobarteh, and Jali Madi Weleng Jobarteh.
Men are not the only Jalis but women Jalis are called Jali
Musso; the most popular Kora songs were sang by the Jali Mussos’ and their duty
and role need to restore. This can be done through this type of festival in
order to keep it alive for emulation by younger griots.
The Standard practice of one Kora player performing alone is
the unusual common practice today. There has never been a time that a Kora
player would leave a balafong player behind and a Jali Musso attempting to play
alone in a show. Most solo performances were ceremonial.
The ritual is that a Kora show is an ensemble including a balafong background, a backing singer and hand-bell percussions. The Balafong is from Mali and can be traced to the time of King Sumanguru Conte, a Tilibonka from Eastern Mali. The instrument has always been a partner to the kora for making epic songs with a cast of noble griots for national purpose.
Author: Yunus Saliu