Fast went the sweeping action
Smoothly, the fingernail bled a plectrum read
Past several strings, synergies freed-
Thousand beads in motion, and
A calabash of your conscience
Left in the open, as
Dopamine finds your pores,
You just heard me play a chord!
I met Siaka at one Ehalakasa evening of poetry sharing in Accra; a young man of few words when we discussed his music and the possibility to merge poetry and his tuneful songs played on the kora. Before that, he had stood at one end of the stage strumming away like a god, riding a bull-faced cloud, letting loose rain on an a hot human day. It was just marvelous!
I had seen the kora being played several times and spoken to a few instrument makers at the Accra Art Centre about its origin and what people thought of it. First and foremost, you have to know that the Art Centre guys are not the easiest when it comes to information sharing about their works or instruments. Most of the responses I got were that it originated from the Northern parts of Ghana and other Sub Saharan countries and settlers in the lower parts of Ghana brought it down with them for merry-making and occasions just like the gyil.
Siaka Diarra is from Bobo Dioulassou, ‘the musical city’ of Burkina Faso. He’s performed all over West Africa and some parts of Europe and has an album ‘Music from the Soul’, released by the People’s Ear Label in 2011, to his name. Aside the kora, he plays the bolon and ngoni, which is mostly imported directly from Mali and Guinea, hand crafted in the traditional style
Siaka Diarra is a jali (traditional kora player) and one of the best at it. If you’re lost; a kora is a harp built from a big calabash cut in half and covered with cow/sheep skin to create a resonator. It also consists of a long hardwood neck. The skin is supported by two handles that run under it and a free-standing bridge. It doesn’t fit into any one category of musical instruments, just as Siaka’s music doesn’t sound like any other contemporary African musician’s.