Various Artists: Gambian Griot Kora Duets (Smithsonian Folkways)

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Various Artists: Gambian Griot Kora Duets (Smithsonian Folkways)

The magical and mercurial sound of the kora – a 21-string instrument from West Africa has become familiar on the Womad circuit in the past few decades and names like Toumani Diabate, Seckou Keita would be familiar enough to readers on Elsewhere.


In early 2019 we also introduced singer/kora player Sona Jobarteh, one of the few women players.

In 1979 Folkways Records released this album of recordings in Senegal and The Gambia by Marc Pevar with three musicians – Alhaji Bai Konte, Dembo Konte and Ma Lamini Jobate – from the region.

These five pieces are perhaps for most listeners some distance from the more polished sound they are familiar with and certainly the vocals in some places sound unduly harsh.

But this is just how it was at that time before the kora and the musicians became internationally known.

That said, when the kora is central – and there are some wonderful and lengthy instrumental passages here – this has a timeless and meditative quality.

This album is released as part of three vinyl reissue alongside two other equally historic recordings, Tuareg Music of the Southern Sahara and Lord Invader's Calypso Travels.

You can find out more about them here.

Here are some images by Susan Gunn Pevar from the album cover used with permission. The first few show a kora being made by Bai and Dembo Konte with apprentices, the others are of the musicians.

Bai_and_Dembo_Konte_and_apprentices_making_a_small_kora__1___photo_by_Susan_Gunn_Pevar

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Bai_and_Dembo_Konte_and_apprentices_making_a_small_kora__2___photo_by_Susan_Gunn_Pevar

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Bai_and_Dembo_Konte_and_apprentices_making_a_small_kora__3___photo_by_Susan_Gunn_Pevar

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Bai and Dembo Konte 

Bai_and_Dembo_Konte_playing_kora__photo_by_Marc_Pevar

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Dembo Konte and Alhaji Bai Konte, photo by Marc Pevar

Dembo_Konte__left__and_Alhaji_Bai_Konte__right__playing_kora__photo_by_Marc_Pevar

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Ma Lamini Jobate, photo by Marc Pevar 

Ma_Lamini_Jobate_playing_Kora__photo_by_Marc_Pevar

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Women singers Yangkui Kuiyate (centre left) and Jabu Sau (center right) playing iron percussion instruments, photo by Marc Pevar 

Yangkui_Kuiyate__center_left__and_Jabu_Sau__center_right__playing_iron_percussion_instruments__B_W_photo_by_Marc_Pevar

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