Monday, July 20, 2015

Alhaji Bai Konte: Kora Melodies from The Gambia

This was another memorable purchase in the early Nineties as explorations in "world music" were beginning and it was the first introduction, outside of an abridged piece on a JVC sampler CD, to the amazing and rich sound of the kora.

The 21-stringed gourd-like instrument has so much range and complexity and, in the hands of a master griot like Bai Konte, it takes on an otherworldly quality to it.  Beautiful melodies, deft arpeggios, and an assured technique mark this 1973 recording, released to coincide with Bai Konte's first tour of the United States and released by Rounder Records.

Then a three-year old company, Rounder was becoming well-known for its releases of folk, bluegrass and other American forms of music, but the beauty of this music inspired the label to issue the album because it seemed to relate in spirit to the rest of Rounder's expanding catalog.

The 1990s purchase of the album was on cassette, so the great thing about the CD version is the presence of four extra tracks, three of them recorded at a college concert in Pennsylvania.  The remainder of the album was recorded in The Gambia, including one of the bonus tracks which was taped at a performance in the town of Sinanor.

Most of the insert is about the sights and sounds encountered when the producers spent time with Bai Konte in The Gambia and give some idea of the important of Islam, Gambian traditions, and family in the musical world of the kora master.

After this first foray into world music, Rounder later released over fifty volumes of the remarkable "Anthology of World Music" series.  More selections from that series to come soon!

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