Kora players have traditionally come from griot families who are traditional historians, and storytellers who pass their skills on to their descendants. A traditional kora player is called a Jali. Traditional koras feature 21 strings, eleven played by the left hand and ten by the right.
A kora is built from a large calabash cut in half and covered with cow skin to make a resonator with a long hardwood neck. The skin is supported by two handles that run under it, and it supports a notched double free-standing bridge. The strings run in two divided ranks, making it a double harp. They do not end in a soundboard but are held in notches on a bridge, making it a bridge harp. They originate from a string arm or neck and cross a bridge directly supported by a resonating chamber, making it a lute too.
The player uses only the thumb and index finger of both hands to pluck the strings in polyrhythmic patterns (using the remaining fingers to secure the instrument by holding the hand posts on either side of the strings).
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