Gambia’s First International Kora Festival

Posted on January 22nd, 2012 in Recent posts by .

Many of us are now familiar with the 21-stringed harp from West Africa (kora), with the instrument appearing on the international stage more and more. Toumani Diabaté has pushed the instrument forward, developing its sound and collaborating with other musicians from all over the world. There are no limitations when it comes to this instrument and Toumani is a pioneer of this. For that reason, we are all falling in love with the kora. Now it’s taught in schools across Europe, America and Asia. You only have to enter the SOAS music practice rooms in London to see how popular this instrument is amongst its music students.

Oko Drammeh, Gambian-born music producer and promoter, has picked up on the fact that the kora is now a worldwide phenomenon, with it being played and copied by many nationalities. This has inspired Drammeh to put on The Gambia’s first international kora festival, stressing that the instrument originated there. Drammeh aims to make it a national music symbol again by restoring ancestral kora capitals within the country, which are quickly disappearing. He hopes that it will teach the heritage, artistic and intellectual wisdom to the youth of The Gambia. Originally, griots (hereditary musicians, also known as jalis) would transfer this knowledge from father to son for many generations, but Drammeh realises that the current children of these jalis are now occupied with other trades.

Not only will the festival re-store heritage and tradition, but it will also bring cultural and eco-tourism development. Manufacturing and the exportation of the instrument abroad also come with the kora legacy. The host town for the festival will be Brikama and Drammeh hopes that the festival will lead to the establishment of a kora institution in the town. Students from all over the world will be able to study the instrument and there will be a factory for assembling the koras and exporting them worldwide.

Organisers have confirmed that the annual festival will take place from 16-29 April this year and will attract kora players from all over the world. The female Gambian-born kora player Sona Jobarteh has been confirmed, as well as Gambia’s kora maestro Jaliba Kuyateh. Dembo Conte will be there, Momodou Susso and many more. The organisers have confirmed that it will take place over a two-week period and will include a conference, seminar, traditional music performances, film night, lectures, symposium, workshops, festival stage and art-market place. It’s the perfect excuse to take a trip to The Gambia.

To read up on the festival, visit

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