Wednesday, March 24, 2010
The Oberlin Kora Collection
Oberlin currently has eight koras in the collection. In the photo at right I am holding one of them. They were the principal instrument in the Oberlin Mandinka Ensemble, which also included two balafons. The ensemble grew from my field research and kora studies in Gambia in 1970. I brought back three koras originally. After starting the ensemble at Oberlin in 1977, I returned to Gambia in 1987 to buy more instruments. In this photo my teacher, the renowned kora virtuoso Jali Nyama Suso, and I are preparing six koras for shipment. They were made by Alieu Suso, a well known Gambian maker, and hand-picked for Oberlin by Jali Nyama.
The kora is classified as a bridge harp (an older term, harp lute, is obsolete). It has 21 strings in two rows, played with thumbs and forefingers. In a future post I will discuss in more depth the features of the instrument and its classification.