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
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.
| • 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
• 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
• 2001 - Konteh, Sherrifo.
Mansalou. Compound Sounds CS01.
- Konteh, Sherrifo. Chesano. Compound Sounds CS02.