As many of you may know, I have purchased a Kora (a harp-lute type
instrument fashioned from taught leather stretched over a large
calabash, and 21 strings emanating from a tall pole) and have begun
taking lessons. Last Monday would have been my first lesson, but my
hand was still bandaged up tightly and very sensitive. This Monday
was my first lesson, with the next one being tonight. Our instructor
(another teacher and I are taking lessons) is a griot, the caste
family group which is responsible for music, genealogy, recording and
passing on information. He also is the one who made our instruments.
The first lesson was quite challenging. Instead of starting
off with simple notes or even melodies, we immediately began working
on a song, one that dealt with the issue of loyalty. There was no
written music, and the melody/harmony was very much unlike what I was
used to. Just like Jelimady (jeli means griot in Bambara) instructed
(my French is minimal, so much is done through observation), I used
my thumbs and index finger to begin repeating what he had just
played. It took great concentration and still I fumbled up at times.
He was very patient with both of us though and took his position as
teacher very seriously. Knowing that our still-new koras were not
mature and go out of tune quite quickly, he offered to return on
Wednesday for free, so he could tune the koras and make sure we could
play the parts we had just learned. Jelimady's "quick" review was so
generous. He stayed over 3 and a half hours, instructing us and then
answering some questions we had about griots and the Malian culture.
So very friendly and humble. Even though the kora is well known as a
very difficult instrument, we both are even more determined to do
well - and please our wonderful instructor.
Indeed, what a wonderful opportunity we have here.