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Long forgotten words or ancient melodies..'

Salieu Suso is from The Gambia in Western Africa and has been playing the Kora, a traditional stringed instrument, since he was eight years old. He has an established reputation as a Griot or djeli - poet or storyteller - and has been an official MUNY artist since 2007.

As I came up to speak with him, he was talking to a guy called David, a guitar player who, coincidentally, had just finished his PhD on African music. "I've written about you, and I've never met you until now," David told him, with obvious excitement.

David told me that Gambian music and musicians started showing up in New York in the 1990s and that there is now a thriving African music scene that brings them together.

I bought Salieu's CD 'The Source of Goodness' and watched him play for a while. I'd never seen a Kora in the flesh before, although I'd heard it on albums by Malian guitarist Ali Farka Toure.

Salieu gave out a flyer with the CD, where he writes about his 21-string instrument - the strings used to be made of braided antelope hide - and I'll just quote from it here, since it's a pretty good description:

"The Kora is made from half a gourd or calabash with a hardwood post that runs through it to which the 21 and anchor strings are attached to the playing strings to an iron ring bored through the base of the Kora's hardwood neck. The calabash is covered with a cowhide that is stretched over the open side of the half calabash, and then left in the sun to dry tight and hold the hand posts in place."

The soundhole was where the royalty and other audience members would put their coins when they were pleased by a performance.

There's a 
video here of Salieu talking about and playing the instrument.

I noticed it was amplified, using I guess, a guitar-type pickup inside, and it made me think of how inter-connected ethnic stringed instruments are, regardless of where they emerged; for example the Celtic harp, and then the connection to the Bouzouki that traditional Irish musicians like Andy Irvine and Donal Lunny have made in recent years.

Steve