It is usually played as an accompaniment to Jeli singers and was first played in the Mandingue royal courts. According to Toumani Diabate (Famous Kora player), Djeli Madi Woulen Diabate was the 1st Kora player. The Kora which originally had 22 strings ended up with only 21. One string got removed in memory of Djeli Madi Woulen, leaving 1 empty leather ring on the pole as a tradition.
The Kora version for sale here originates from Guinea (west Africa).
You can tune your Kora with 4 different heptatonic tuning scales. The tunings used depends on the country, region, or families that play the instrument. The most common tuning scale are:
Silaba (TomoraBa) original tuning, Tomora (Mesengo) originted in Gambia, Hardino originted in Gambia, and Sawta (lately derived from Hardino). (See diagram below for the original and most common tuning: Silaba)
The kora is the West African tunable harp or lute. A Jeli dedicated musical instrument.
The base of the kora is a semi-circular bowl made from a calabash (gourd). From this base, a straight hard wooden neck extends. The calabash acts as a resonance chamber, with its opening covered by shaved calf or goatskin. The traditional kora has a total of twenty-one nylon strings individually attached to the pole by means of leather rings. Those strings are split in two rows, eleven on the left and ten on the right. Strings were originally made out of twisted antelope hide until around 1950's, while nylon strings only makes the tuning more resistant to temperature change.
The kora is tuned by moving the Self-blocking leather rings up or down the pole. Between the calabash and its leather covering, is a frame made of three sticks, two parallel to the neck and one perpendicular to it. They are held tightly in place by the leather and the edge of the gourd, hold up the instrument, with its base resting on the abdomen of the player while playing.
The Kora is held with the strings facing the player, and is played with both thumbs and index fingers in tandem: Base on the left thumb, accompaniment (Kumbengo) with the right thumb, and solos (Birimintingo) by adding the index fingers - When played with the proper technique, all three can be done simultaneously on a single Kora by one player.
The origin of the kora can be traced to Gambia and Guinea-Bissau (West Africa), but has been widely used in the neighboring Guinea, Mali, and Senegal area for centuries.