oral traditions and history of his native Dakar, Senegal.
Toumany Kouyaté comes from a long line of artists and musicians. His
instrument of choice is the kora, although he plays many other
The kora is a classic harp-lute used by musicians (storykeepers known
as [French] griot; or the preferred African name, jali — meaning
storytellers) in West Africa.
The music is faithfully preserved from ancient strictly historical
storytelling tradition, where cultural history is kept alive through
music and dance passed down from generation to generation, essentially
word for word, as a record of their people and their significant
The predominantly West African instrument is built on a calabash
(massive gourd). The most skilled kora players such as Toumany Kouyaté
of Senegal, can tune the kora to four different seven-note scales.
Toumany Kouyaté’s kora is double-necked, allowing him to switch
between scales in seconds.
“A kora is a harp built from a large calabash cut in half and covered
with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck. The skin
is supported by two handles that run under it, and it supports a
notched double free-standing bridge. It doesn’t fit into any one
category of musical instruments, but rather several, and must be
classified as a “double-bridge-harp-lute.” The strings run in two
divided ranks, making it a double harp. They do not end in a
soundboard but are held in notches on a bridge, making it a bridge
harp. They originate from a string arm or neck and cross a bridge
directly supported by a resonating chamber, making it a lute too.”
Members of his family and friends put on a rousing performance at
Winchester Cultural Center last Friday evening as part of their World
Toumany Kouyaté and his group Bountalo (Black Scorpion) performed
traditional African songs as well as original compositions,
accompanied by dancers in brilliant authentic costumes.
Since 1998 he has been playing in Cirque du Soleil’s “O” at the
Mirage. Many friends from “O” joined him for this performance–Eric
Plante, keyboards and saxophone; Ibou Ba, guitar; Peter Fand, bass
guitar and kora; and John Abraham, drums. Kouyaté is currently
teaching his two sons to play kora, and they joined in, as well as his
daughter, who demonstrated her skills as a contortionist.
Using modern arrangements with bass guitar, western drums alongside
African drums and saxophone, was a demonstration of Kora’s ability to
be part of a modern ensemble as well as a revered village
Winchester cultural center offers world-class programs year round at
affordable prices in its centrally located facility (now being
renovated to include a community garden, urban play-spaces, and other
improvements to serve our community). For upcoming programs: Phone
(702) 455-7340 or visit http://www.ClarkCountyNV.gov/ parks.
For more about Kora go to www.coraconnection.com (a popular website
created by Kora player David Gilden).