Globe Icon Kora musician, Yakabu Saho of the Gambia

Photo: Yakabua Saho tuning his kora

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Yakuba Saho and his wife are traditional Mandinka musicians, often called griots, although the preferred term among the Mandinka is jáli. For centuries, jális have been an integral part of social events, such as weddings and naming ceremonies. jális like Yakuba typically compose praise songs for their patrons, relating stories, reciting proverbs and giving advice through song. Here, Yakuba Saho tunes his kora while his wife Bintu enjoys a cold drink. In performance, they sing together, sometimes taking turns in a call and response format. While Yakuba plays, Bintu taps out a rhythmic pattern on the back of the kora's resonant calabash. This is called konkondiro and his heard on many older Gambian kora recordings. Female vocalists are called jali-musoo, musso is Mandinka for female.

After the Islamic holy month of fasting and prayer, "Ramadan," comes a big day of celebration. On that day, Yakabu wakes the family early and tells his son to put his kora and a small amplifer in the car. Dressed in their nicest clothes. he and his wife drive around town, visiting and entertaining all their patrons. All of his patrons tell Yan that they like kora "too much." A common West African phrase, if you ever visit the Gambia, I am sure you will hear!

Hear Yan Kuba play the kora...

Yan Kuba Saho was born in the mid-1940s in Dankunku in the district of Njamena, Gambia, West Africa. At the age of ten he was sent to learn kora and to read the Koran with Faal Suso, in Salinkenni. After ten years of studies, Yan Kuba left Faal Suso's compound and traveled throughout The Gambia and Senegal performing his lyrcial style of kora for friends while gaining patrons in the traditional way of the Mandinka Griot. Throughout the 1960's and 1970's Yan Kuba Saho lived in Banjul, the capital of Gambia before moving to Serekunda-Bundung. He died before his time, in the late 90s.


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