Kora harpist performs Sept. 21 at Emerald of Siam in Richland

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldSeptember 11, 2013 

Kora harpist Sean Gaskell performs traditional music Sept. 21 in Richland.


Sean Gaskell fell in love with the sound of the harp in 2006. Not just any old harp, but a kora harp.

"I first heard the kora played by musician Kane Mathis," Gaskell told the Herald via email. "I was deeply taken by the complex nature of the instrument, and by the complex rhythms Kane seemed to perform flawlessly."

Gaskell, of Seattle, will perform a concert of traditional music with his kora harp starting at 5 p.m. Sept. 21 at the Emerald of Siam in Richland. The event is open to all ages. There is no cover.

The kora, which dates back 300 years, is a harp that is native to the Mandinka people who are spread across African areas of Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea Bissau, he added.

It is made from a large calabash, cut in half then covered in cow skin with a long, hardwood neck.

"The kora is played with the thumbs and index fingers," he said. "All 21 strings are plucked, nothing is fretted."

Gaskell studied the instrument with teachers in Gambia in 2008 and again in 2012.

"My Gambian teachers are Malamini Jorbarteh and Moriba Kuyateh," he said. "Both are Griots, also known as oral and musical historians by trade. They are required to pass along the tradition of their people through music and spoken word."

He carries on that tradition by performing songs that also tell stories, some of which date to the 13th century.

"I mostly feature songs of the traditional repertoire that I learned over the the course of my two visits to Gambia," Gaskell said.

The Emerald of Siam is in the Uptown Shopping Center off Jadwin Avenue in Richland.

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