The Kora Band integrates the uniquely entrancing timbre of the kora, a traditional 21-string harp from West Africa, into a jazz context, bringing together two musical traditions with historical connections to create a totally unique sound reflecting the globalized world of the 21st century.
Founded by London-based, American pianist and composer Andrew Oliver after a 2007 U.S. State Department tour to West Africa, the band features New York-based virtuoso Kane Mathis on kora, bringing extensive knowledge from two decades of study with master musicians in The Gambia in addition to conservatory training in the U.S. The band performs Andrew’s original music as well as traditional repertoire from across West Africa with the seamless integration of piano and kora churning along as the backbone of the group sound, augmented by trumpet, bass, and drums.
The group’s 2010 album “Cascades” (OA2 Records) won Earshot Jazz’s award for “Northwest Jazz Album of the Year” and peaked at number 12 on the U.S. World Music radio charts. In 2012, Andrew was awarded a prestigious Chamber Music America “New Jazz Works Grant” for the commissioning and recording of a new concert length work transforming elements from specific traditional kora pieces into totally new jazz compositions. The resulting album, “New Cities,” will be released in the spring of 2015 on Whirlwind Recordings.
“New Cities” is a suite of eight compositions by Andrew, each of which takes as its basis a piece from the traditional west African repertoire, deconstructs it, and uses its elements to make a new jazz work. The original pieces range from common tunes such as “Kaira,” made popular in the 1950s and dedicated to an important religious teacher whose work involved mass prayers for peace and “Mami Wata,” originally a highlife guitar piece from Ghana which entered the Malian and Guinean repertoire in the postcolonial era, to obscure tunes such as “Fayinkunko,” dedicated to a mostly forgotten Gambian patron. The new suite takes melodic, rhythmic, and structural elements from the original pieces and uses them to create new pieces for the group’s unique instrumentation, utilizing the jazz backgrounds and improvisational skills of the bandmembers alongside grooves and ideas from the original tunes and a contemporary compositional lens.