Alhaji Bai Konte
One of the original masters of the kora (an African lute containing twenty-one or more strings), Alhaji Bai Konte helped draw greater attention to the music of West Africa before his death in 1986. He was the first kora player to tour the U.S., stunning audiences with his florid style. His playing was based in the Casamance style (popular in Senegal and Gambia), which features exciting improvisations filled with frantic strumming, polyrhythms and a hotter, more percussive style of playing than those popularized in the East. Konte's rich vocals accompany the plucks of his lute, which can be blazingly fast or offer quiet accompaniment. His son Dembo has become one of Gambia's most popular kora players.