Arts, Culture & Media

Global hit - King Kora

Zurich, Switzerland is a world-class city. But it's not usually known for musical innovation. And especially for African musicians, it has not been a must-go destination. That's why we perked up our ears when we heard a collection of music produced in Zurich by Swiss and African musicians. The World's Marco Werman has more.

Roger GreipRoger Greip

Talk about niche music genres. Here's how Zurich-based musician Roger Greipl describes it.

�Modern or urban, West African griot music. Our boss instrument is the kora, which is a 21 stringed African harp. The kora is the boss of the band.�

And that's why Greipl calls his band King Kora.

�Sax player and composer Roger Greipl co-founded King Kora with Gambian kora player Lamin Jobarteh in 1997.�

It's a fusion that has worked well. The question I had to ask Greipl though was, "how did he track down his talented African collaborators in Zurich of all places?" After all, it's Paris, not Zurich, that attracts more African artists.

�You think so, eh. But there are some of them they end up in Zurich. And that's how we met. They have a lot of Gambians, Senegalese, people from Congo, South Africa. Zurich is a very international place. We have a good living standard, so a lot of people love to come to Switzerland.�

MW: How receptive are the audiences in Switzerland, in Z�rich specifically to King Kora?

RG: In Switzerland we made our name now and we can play almost anywhere. You know most of the singing is in the language of Mandinka, the language of Gambia, the main language. And first time last year that I saw one Swiss guy who was singing along our songs, a real Swiss guy but he was singing along in Mandinka. He didn't understand what we were singing about, but he knew the words. That was for me a breakthrough.

Let's fall back on stereotypes for a moment. The Swiss are known for tight planning and organization. In a music setting, that could have odd consequences when their collaborators are West Africans.

�We have our troubles with these different types of mentalities, but at the same time it's a kind of symbiosis because we can add the organization to the chaos, and they have their thing, they have their groove, its good we came together. We have both, we can learn from each another.�

And apparently they have. King Kora's second CD is called "Bundung."

For The World, I'm Marco Werman.