the family of the Kora

(Ansoumana Kollé and Abbas Dibba aka The Blues Brothers, Jola musicians from Brikama, Gambia)

7-string bow-harp in pentatonic tuning, one plane of strings, played by the Diola people in Senegambia who call it also Furakaf

in Mali it's played by the Bamana who call it Simbi, the tuning for Jaliya music is heptatonic

similar instruments are:

Bolon / Bolonbata
with 3-4 strings, very percussive sound, played mainly in Guinée, used as bass in orchestras

those are all originally hunter's harps of the Mande peoples and their neighbors

Donso Ngoni / Kamale Ngoni (Doussngouni)

The Donso Ngoni is the instrument of the traditional hunters societies in Mali and Guinee - donso means hunting. Hunters use it at their ceremonies to accompany the long, epic stories about famous hunters and generally hunter's mythology. The Kamale Ngoni is technically just about the same, expect that some players prefer to mount guitar tuning pegs instead of the traditional tuning system where the strings are tied up on moveable rings knotted with shoelaces, similar to the Kora. Kamale means youth, so this is the youth's harp to play modern repertoire rather than the traditional songs. The instrument has 6 strings in two parallel planes with pentatonic tuning: C-D-F-G-Bb-c
right hand: C-F-Bb, left hand: D-G-c (absolute pitch heights vary of course, right and left hand may be reversed).
The Kamale Ngoni is very popular in the Wassoulou music from South Mali (Oumou Sangare features Kamale Ngoni on her recordings).
The Kamale Ngoni is played with the left thumb and forefinger and the right thumb. The dampening technique of the right thumb used to stop the sound immediately after plucking the string and the syncopated patterns give the music a swinging drive.

(from Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina Faso)

The Goni is played by Dioula people of Burkina Faso. The instrument is very similar to Kamale Ngoni, though somewhat larger.
The tuning is also pentatonic: D-F-G-A-c-d-f-g
left hand: D-G-c-f, right hand: F-A-d-f, there are 8 or 10 strings, expanding the tonal range over more than one octave. The Goni is played solo for accompaniment of songs or together with the pentatonic Balafon of the region. Like the Kora, the Goni is played with thumbs and forefingers of both hands.

Ngoni / Konting / Xalam
(from Mali)

The Ngoni is not a harp but a lute ! There is much confusion about this name, Ngoni signifies string instrument which can be a harp or a lute but in Mali it is the proper name for this instrument that is found everywhere in the Sahel. Possibly this is the ancestor of the 5-string banjo (as some tunings and playing styles prove). The come in various sizes and pitch heights - Ngoni Ba, the big, deep one and Ngoni Micin, the small, highpitched one. Konting is the name in Mandinka and Xalam in Wolof language, the Tukulor call it Gambare, the Moors play the Tidinit, the Fula play the Molo, even the Gnaoua in Morocco play a bass variant of it called Sentir or Guimbri. The number of strings varies between 1 and 7. The most common type has 4 strings, 2 long ones and 2 short ones. The long ones ore shortened with left hand fingers like a guitar, the short ones are tuned to a certain note of the scale depending on the song being played. The playing technique specially for the right hand is very complicated and uses a lot of ornamentation, sound variations and also percussive knocking. Instruments with more than 4 strings have additional short strings to extend the tonal range. The Ngoni is probably the oldest of the Jaliya instruments, older than the Balafon and the Kora. For every typical song there is a special tuning with separate fingering. The Ngoni has a huge repertoire of songs both pentatonic (i.e. Bambara music in Mali) and heptatonic (Jaliya music compatible to Kora and Balafon). As it is a fretless lute, there are many exotic microtonal modes being used that can be played without retuning the strings for the intervals second, third, sixth, seventh. The fourth is either pure or sharp, the fifth and the octave are always pure. The tonal range depends on the tuning and on the number of additional short strings, normally notes between one octave and one octave plus a fifth can be played. Some players use finger picks for right thumb and forefinger.

A scheme of strings, tunings and fingerings will be given here for Ngoni afficionados:

this is the sight of the player looking on his instrument:
(additional short strings, higher than Dendiourou)
short string Dendiourou, the highest string, away from the player, plucked with right forefinger outward and inward
long string Diali Diourou, one fourth above Badiourou, plucked with right forefinger outward, shortened with left fingers
long string Badiourou, the deepest string, plucked with right thumb or forefinger outward, shortened with left fingers
short string Kodiourou, deeper than Dendiourou, close to the player, plucked with right thumb or forefinger outward

There are 2 playing modes:
Eridne means the octave of the tonal base of the song is on Kodiourou, thus being plucked with the right thumb mostly.
Diefoli means the octave is on Dendiourou, being plucked with the right forefinger.

An example for Diefoli, as used for the song Douga:

Diali Diourou is always one fourth higher than Bajourou, thse two strings are never altered when changing the tuning, only the short strings are affected. The tonal base is D on Badiourou with octave d on Dendiourou. These notes are often sounded together. The seventh c is on Kodiourou, the fourth G on Diali Diourou. The other notes of the scale are found shortening with left forefinger, middle finger and ring finger on Badiourou and Diali Diourou. Except the fifth A, which is always a pure fifth above the tonal base D, the other notes are variable depending on the microtonal mode ("somewhere between major and minor"). The tonal range is one octave.

Dendiourou: d
Diali Diourou: G (A, B flat)
Badiourou: D (E, F)
Kodiourou: c

The same tuning can be used for Eridne playing mode as used in the songs Lambang, Soundiata:
Here the octave is c on Kodiourou but there is no tonal base one octave below. Like in the song Douga there is a constant harmonic movement between C (major) and D (minor), but it depends on the playing mode which note is felt as tonal base. To establish the octave as the tonal base, the c on Kodiourou is often played together with a B on Diali Diourou that is dampened immediately after sounding to add a percussive accent to the c.

Another tuning used for the songs Kaira, Toutou, Bani:

Dendiourou is augmented by one halfnote to e flat. This is a Diefoli tuning, so E flat is the tonal base. This note is found on Badiourou first position ("1st fret") and is played together often with e flat on Dendiourou and with the fifth B flat on Diali Diourou third Position ("3rd fret"). The tonal range is one octave plus the deep seventh D on open Badiourou. There is no high seventh d - left hand fingers do not move to higher positions - so when playing the ascending scale there is an octave jump from the sixth c on Kodiourou down to the seventh D on Badiourou.

Dendiourou: e flat
Diali Diourou: G (A flat, B flat)
Badiourou: D (E flat, F)
Kodiourou: c

Another tuning for pentatonic Bambara songs like Ndiarro, Nganubala:

Kodiourou is tuned to the octave d of open Bajourou D which is the tonal base. Only five notes and the octave are used in the scale. Often D, octave d and fifth A are sounded together.

Dendiourou: e
Diali Diourou: G (A, c)
Badiourou: D (E also F, F sharp)
Kodiourou: d

Another tuning for either pentatonic or heptatonic songs like Ouahadou Nyame:

Kodiourou is tuned to the octave of open Bajourou D which is the low fifth in this tuning. The tonal base is G on open Diali Diourou. Dendiourou is tuned to its octave g. So the long strings have their octaves in the short strings which gives a tonal range of one octave and one fifth.

Dendiourou: g
Diali Diourou: G (A, B flat or B, c)
Badiourou: D (E, F or F sharp)
Kodiourou: d

Well, there is much more to say about the Ngoni, the complicated tunings and the intricate playing techniques and styles of this magic instrument. Eventually this section will be continued ...

(Olivier Sambou, Cap Skirring, Senegal)

3-string bow-harp/lute combination instrument, played by the Diola people in the Casamance

it's sort of a missing link between harps like Kora and lutes like Ngoni: 1 or 2 strings can be shortened as on lute or guitar, the other is played open like on a harp

The Electric Kora

Kora Bridge with pickup system and mixer

a prototype based on the 24-string Gravikord by Bob Grawi

I applied several modifications and adaptations to make a Kora out of it

strange feeling to play the Kora on steel strings using guitar effects ...

interested in the Gravikord ?
inquire at:

magnetic pickup system and mixer by Marcus Diess, Wavesound

need a special pickup for any instrument ?
inquire at:

To be continued, in sha' allah !

Copyright © 1997-2003 Harald Loquenz. All rights reserved