Also:       konting      ngoni      koni      nkoni      koonting      

Title: Kassi Kasse—N’i Ma Sori; Basekou Kouyata, kontingo. Label: Narada World. Format: CD. Catalogue#: 72435-80775-2-0. Track: 6.

Contextual Associations

The kontingo is a plucked half-spike lute chordophone of the Mandinka people of The Gambia. This seven-string kontingo is similar to other plucked lutes used by Mande-speaking hereditary music specialists called jeli of western Africa. It was purchased from the Gambian musician Alhadji Papa Susso, a Mandinka jeli, in 2004. The kontingo is inextricably associated with this caste of specialists and their art, called jeliya (see ‘Jeliya Instruments of Mandinka Hereditary Musicians from The Gambia’ for more background information).


The resonator of this kontingo is basically a vessel drum consisting of an elongated bowl shaped shell carved from a solid piece of wood with a pegged-on antelope skin covering (see first detail photo). Three holes are cut into the rawhide soundtable membrane: a small one near the rim at the top end of the resonator, another small one just above the bridge, and a larger hole just below the second hole and separated from it by a narrow strip of the membrane. The neck of the lute is made from a rounded stick with a slight arch, and it is held in place by pressure exerted upon it by the soundboard membrane. The neck is threaded through the hole at the top of the resonator, runs under the membrane until it emerges from the second small hole. Since the bottom end of the neck terminates a few inches below the second membrane hole, never reaching the rim at the bottom of the resonator, this instrument is classified as a half-spike lute. Just above the bottom end of the neck is a bridge made of a thick fan-shaped piece of gourd with a hole in it just large enough to be slipped over the neck (see second detail photo). Pressure exerted upon it from the tension of the playing strings keeps the bridge in place. The strings are made of strands of nylon fishing line twisted together. One end of each string is knotted around several loose strands of thread, which in turn are wrapped around the neck and secured with a knot. Each string, after passing over the bridge, is tied to a hide tuning ring on the neck (see third detail photo), which can be slid up and down to tune the string to the desired frequency. Mandinka kontingos usually have five strings, but this one has seven. Only two of these strings are situated in such a way that they can be stopped against the narrow neck--the other five strings can vibrate only at their full length.

Player - Instrument Interface and Sound Production

The instrument is held horizontally, plucked with the fingers of the right hand (thumb, index finger and middle finger) and stopped with the first three fingers of the left hand (only two of the seven strings are stopped against the fretless neck). There are about eight different tunings (kumben) for this instrument, but for all of them the two melodic strings are always tuned approximately a perfect fourth apart (see Charry pp. 162-164 for more detailed tuning information). Each tuning will have several named pieces associated with it; some pieces can be played in more than one tuning. The performer in general plays a melodic or harmonic cycle (kumbengo) repeatedly with some variation while either delivering song or spoken texts himself or accompanying a singer presenting such material. The kontingo can be played alone or in combination with a second kontingo or with other instruments performed by jeli.


The Mandinka kontingo most likely derives from the nkoni of Mali, which was described as a court instrument by Ibn Battuti in 1353 and remained associated with that context until the early 20th century. The Scottish explorer Mungo Park was the first European to mention the instrument in his 1799 chronicles. Among the Mandinka it was eclipsed in importance by the kora in the early 20th century. Today it is rarely encountered in The Gambia, but is still used by neighboring eastern Senegalese jeli.

Bibliographic Citations

Charry, 2000. Mande Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Duran, Lucy. 1984. “Konting [kontingo, koonting].” NGDMI v.2: 459-460.

Knight, Roderic. 1973. Mandinka Jeliya: Professional Music of the Gambia. Ph.D. dissertation, UCLA.


Instrument Information


Continent: Africa

Region: West Africa

Nation: Gambia

Formation: Mandinka

Classification (Sachs-Von Hornbostel revised by MIMO)

321.331 chordophone--half-spike or tanged bowl lute: the handle/neck is neither attached to the resonator nor passes all the way through it but terminates within the body

Design and Playing Features

Category: chordophone

String carrier design: lute - half-spike

Resonator design, chordophone: bowl with membrane soundboard

String courses: single

Vibrational length: pressure bridge to tuning ring

String tension control: tuning ring

Method of sounding: plucking (direct)

Pitches per string course: one and multiple (by pressure stopping against fretless fingerboard)


26 in. length

Primary Materials

membrane - mammal skin
string - synthetic

Entry Author

Gaelyn Hutchinson, Roger Vetter