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Alhaji Bai Konte

 
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Biography:
Alhaji Bai Konte was one of the original solo griot masters of the kora who hailed from Brikama, Gambia. He helped to draw greater awareness to the music of West Africa before his death in 1986. In 1973 he became the first kora player to tour the United States, exciting crowds at the Newport Jazz Festival with his flamboyant instrumental technique.

His playing was based in the Casamance kora style (also popular in Senegal), whose elements include rousing improvisations packed with frenzied strumming, polyrhythms and an intense, more percussive technique of playing than those popularised elsewhere. Konte's powerful vocals accompany the plucks of his lute, which can be extremely fast or offer quiet accompaniment.

Two things besides Alhaji Konte's own playing that contributed to his unique melodies are the inclusion in many of the performances of a rhythmic tapping (konkon) on the back of the kora by a second person, and the assistance of Konte's sons and apprentices in providing a chorus of voices either singing with him or in response to his solo phrases.

Alhaji Konte used instruments tuned at 3 different pitch levels (G, A, and B flat), all of which are on the high side of what might be called a de facto "standing pitch area" for the kora, which is somewhere between E flat and G. The higher pitch gives a very brilliant sound to the instrument and has become more common today.

His sons, who are also Jalis, Dembo Konte and Sherrifo live in Brikama, Gambia. Two LP recordings have been released of Alhaji Bai Konte with Dembo Konte and Malamini Jobarteh. Jali Sherrifo Konteh has released two CDs, 'Mansalou' and 'Chesano', and tours the UK most years. His son Dembo has become one of Gambia's most popular griot kora players.



Discography:
1973 - Konte, Alhaji Bai: Kora Melodies from The Republic of the Gambia, West Africa. Produced and recorded by Marc D. Pevar; pictures and notes by Marc and Susan Pever. Rounder Records 5001.

c. 1978 - Gambia's Music / La musique de al Gambie / Gambias Musik. Ethnic Folkways Library. Produced and recorded by Marc D. Pevar; introductory notes by Susan Gunn Pevar. [New York City]: Folkways Records FE 4521.

1979 - Konte, Alhaji Bai, with Dembo Konte and Ma Lamini Jobarteh. Gambian Griot Kora Duets. Recorded 1977 in Dakar and Brikama, by Marc Pevar. New York City: Folkways. Re-released on CD by Smithsonian Folkways Records in 1999.

1989 - Konte, Alhaji Bai. Kora Melodies From the Republic of the Gambia, West Africa. Originally released in 1973, and works 1-10 were issued also in 1985 as analogue disc (5001). Somerville, Massachusetts: Rounder Records.

2001 - Konteh, Sherrifo. Mansalou. Compound Sounds CS01.

2005 - Konteh, Sherrifo. Chesano. Compound Sounds CS02.

 
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