A kora (also spelled cora) is a large lute-like instrument made from a large calabash gourd that is cut in half. The calabash gourd is generally covered with cow hide to make a resonator. The sound of a kora resembles the sound of a harp, but the style of playing the kora is similar to the intricate playing style of a flamenco guitar.
Koras have 21 strings. The strings of a kora are traditionally made from antelope skin, but now are generally harp strings or nylon strings that are sometimes braided together to make thicker strings. Eleven strings are played by the left hand and ten by the right hand using only the thumb and index finger. The strings are attached to the bottom of the calabash gourd and pass over a large notched bridge and attach to leather thong tuning rings on the neck. Usually two smaller poles are attached as handles.
The kora is the traditional instrument of a griot. A kora player is also known as a "jali" (also jeli, djeli). A jali will train for several decades before mastering the skills needed to play the kora. The kora has become a popular instrument in world music as well as pop and jazz.
Other West African lute-like instruments are:
The 2 string bororo from the Ivory Coast
The 3-4 string bolon (bolombata, bolombato, bulumbata) from Gambia, Guinea, and Mali
The 4-6 string donsonkoni (dunsukoni) from Mali and Guinea
The 5-9 string simbing from Gambia and Senegal
The 6 string kori from the Ivory Coast
The 6 string seperewa from Ghana
The 6-7 string ko from the Ivory Coast
The 6-7 string konchuchun from Burkina Faso
The 15-20 string seron from Guinea
Some kora musicians you want to listen to: Mamadou Diabate from Mali, Toumani Diabate from Mali, Mory Kanté from Guinea, and Alhaji Bai Konté from Gambia