Welcome to my A-Z 2018, for which I am revisiting Africa, the continent of my childhood and my dreams. The posts are, as always, infoheavy and opinionated, but they are sectioned off - some music, the day’s topic, couple writers, a slideshow from the safaris – plenty ways to cherry-pick. So you may consume just as much, or as little, as you're cool with. Zero obligation to agree with any of my views either, feel free to air yours :)

Thursday, 12 April 2018

K is for Kora...and...Kose



is for

Here's a favourite track of mine, take a listen - melody ring any bells? This track was part of the Windows Vista package…Habib Koite is from a Malian griot family and is one of Africa’s most recognised contemporary musicians.   



Find out more about him on his website and listen to more Malian music as you read along...




There are way too many star musicians for this entry, not all of them from Mali – Salif Keita, Bassekou Kouyate, Fela Kuti, Femi Kuti, explore their music by clicking on the names.




KoraFirst off, as promised, I need to tell you about the Kora. The Kora is a 21-string West African, specifically Malian, musical instrument, a sort of harp-lute, it has a large calabash cut into half, with a cowhide-cover for the resonator. And a long hardwood neck and two bridges, and is played with both hands, the right gets to play 10 strings and the left 11 – and the sounds are like a super-beautiful version of harp and guitar. Traditionally the kora is restricted to the griot families; the playing of it is also handed down generationally just like the other functions of the griots. It’s a very old instrument, Ibn Battuta came across the Malians playing kora in the 14th century in his travels. It continues to inspire Malian musicians and music from then to now. Listen below to a solo instrumental played by maestro musician Mamadou Diabate




Kose  - What childhood memories are worth anything if they do not include food?! Kose, variously called Koose, Kosayi and Akara, are black-eyed bean fritters, commonly eaten as a breakfast food and snack all through West Africa. You will find Kose being fried at every street corner in Nigeria, the West African counterpart to the Middle Eastern Falafel/Tamiya. This recipe has travelled to the Americas with the Africans who were taken as slaves there. It is known as Acaraje in Brazil.

My secondary school was residential, most government secondary schools were then. The expat government employees were permitted to send their children in as day-scholars as part of their package, we didn’t get any meals or dorm space, only the classroom facilities. My school served Kose weekly on Wednesdays to the students for the morning break. Because I was completely nuts about Kose, my classmates would save some of their share and bring them from the dining room for me, yum! I don’t know if I thanked them adequately then, so I am doing it now. If any of you happen to be reading a big, fat thank you!


Kola nutKola nut is the fruit of the indigenous kola tree, and kola is part of the culture and religion in many West African countries.

Sometime before my father relocated to Nigeria in the 70’s, we visited the First Secretary of the Nigerian High Commission in Delhi. During the visit, I remember the gentleman offered my parents kola nuts to chew. My mother, who at that time was a user of the traditional Indian aromatic chewing tobacco and betel, was majorly intrigued. Kola chewing leaves the same sort of stains on the teeth as betel leaves do. It contains theobromine and caffeine, it’s a stimulant, and carries the same sort of benefits/risks. And just like tea/coffee and the betel leaf, the use of kola goes back deep, deep into antiquity.

Kola is considered sacred in West Africa. It is offered to visitors as a mark of respect and hospitality. The breaking of kola for a visitor is a tradition that honours him. Custom dictates that the oldest male blesses the kola nut and the youngest man then breaks and offers it around. Kola is also part of religious ceremonies and offerings of the nuts are made to ancestors who have passed on. The offering, breaking and chewing of kola nuts marks most social occasions like births, weddings, naming ceremonies, funerals and any social gathering.

He who brings kola, brings life. ~ Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart.

From the Safaris


~ Thank you for watching! ~

Books n Stuff


Ahmadou Kourouma (1927-2003) – was an Ivorian Francophone writer, novelist and playwright, largely unknown to the English speaking public. However, his books notched up sales in excess of hundreds of thousands in France. He was possibly the best known writer from Africa in that country. He wrote less than half dozen novels, was awarded 18 times and was called the ‘African Voltaire.’ He spent a large chunk of his writing life in exile and at odds with his own government. His first break in publication came from Canada and not France, because French publishers did not like his free and easy ways with their language as Kourouma interlaced his writing with uniquely Malinke speech patterns and imagery. Ivorian authorities had no love for him because he did not buy into the idea of one-party rule. Consequently, censorship, conflict and exile inform much of his writing.

I hadn’t even heard of this writer because I don’t really keep tabs on French books, you know? (I mean, I get out of breath clocking the English and Bengali ones I want to read...sigh) At Kourouma's death only two of his books were available in translation, subsequently more have become available. I only got to know of him randomly, while researching this A-Z, another humdrum yet completely extraordinary way in which the Challenge benefits me! I came across a review of his Allah Is Not Obliged, not just the title is intriguing, but the subject itself is mind blowing. Definitely another one for the TBR. Read that review here and more about Kourouma here.



Mazisi Kunene (1930-2006) – was a South African poet, academic and critic, his work reflects the traditions of Zulu poetry. He was exiled from SA during the apartheid era and taught at US universities till his return in the 90’s after the regime was abolished. He was awarded multiple times and named the Poet Laureate of Africa by UNESCO. Here is an excerpt from one of his poems - 

The Echoes

Over the vast summer hills
I shall commission the summer sun
To fetch you with her long tilted rays,

The slow heave of the valleys
Will once again roll the hymns of accompaniment 
Scattering the glitter of the milky way over the bare fields.

You will meet me
Underneath the shadow of the timeless earth
Where I lie weaving the seasons....









Posted for the A-Z Challenge 2018

18 comments:

  1. Hari OM
    Loved all three tracks today, Nilanjana, especially the kora... and oh, the memories evoked with the fritters and kola nut. Emmanual (our cook) I think called the fritters 'akri'... or maybe 'akli'??? I know it was definitely the black-eyed peas because he was very good at letting me help in the kitchen to learn things. Happy K-day to you! YAM xx

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    1. Happy K to you too - kose comes with minor regional variations, in recipes and in names! :)

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  2. Killer K post. The kora is playing as we speak - wow - 21 strings to break ones heart. Love the kiddos in the safari video - hard to believe elephants can be so "tiny". and that final poem by the Poet Laureate of Africa - wow.
    Killer words, photos, and history. Sorry, I have no kose to offer you - new to me!

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    1. Elephant calves are really the cutest babies in the parks imo...and so teeny as compared to the adults! their mini trunks waving about - just adorable. :)

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  3. I'm intrigued by your description of the Kora. I've often encountered musical instruments from other cultures that hardly ever show up in the USA.

    Your section about the Kola Nut brings to mind an old TV commercial for the 7 Up soft drink, described as "the uncola." The spokesman for the product first displayed a kola nut, then a fictitious "un-cola nut" which was said to be the source of 7 Up's flavor. Strange what associations we make in our minds.

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    1. Africa has some of the most intriguing and ancient instruments - more coming up hopefully in the n post. :) And I totally remember the uncola positioning - a major case study. Can't remember though if it was in the book by Ries and Trout or somewhere else ... :(

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  4. Just listened to an hour of Sona Jobarteh and band Kora. Thank you for the music you share.

    http://findingeliza.com/

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    1. Pleased that you are enjoying and exploring the music - Sona has a track called Mamamuso I think - it's lovely! all of her music is, really.

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  5. Those are all great K things! I'd love to try kose, since I love falafel, and imagine the texture is similar.

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    1. Loads of recipes for kose on youtube/net :) falafel has a similar texture, but of course it's made from fava beans and chickpeas (garbanzo) slightly different flavour from the black eyed beans. Both equally delicious!

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  6. Love, love, love the Kora's sound. And history. And traditions.
    Food is one of the most comforting memories for many of us isn't it?
    And the poetry you finished with has my heart singing.
    Megathanks.

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    1. All food eaten in childhood ends up being comfort food :)

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  7. So much goodness here to explore. That kora music is mesmerizing, and I'm fascinated by your description of the kola nut ceremony. I'll definitely be scoping out kose recipes - my mouth is already watering. And my heart is happy - I always love to see your safari clips, but baby elephants are the absolute best.

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    1. Baby elephants are the cutest of the lot! :)

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  8. I loved today's tracks; I was looking at images of the kora on google while listening to the music. The cultural history of the kola nut is fascinating. Thank you for sharing another great post. www.hesterleynel.co.za

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    1. Cultural history does have its own unique fascination, doesn't it? Glad you enjoyed the entry.

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  9. Hi Nila - loved all the music and reading about the Kora ... and your phrase:

    "I only got to know of him randomly, while researching this A-Z, another humdrum yet completely extraordinary way in which the Challenge benefits me!"

    So agree ... so much to read, listen to and absorb here - cheers Hilary

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    1. Ya, well, the A-Z is just an excuse to dig around really - and hit gold quite often :)

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Thank you for your comment. Your feedback and opinions keep the conversation lively and the words flying.