Kane Mathis plays the Turkish oud and the Mandinka kora, the latter featured in solo performances on this album. Mathis began traveling to Gambia to study kora in 1997, and his playing clearly reflects the lively, energized Gambian style, in contrast to the more serene Malian style heard from the likes of Toumani Diabate. But even given that background, Mathis plays with a particularly fierce determination. In these six reads of traditional pieces, he bypasses the slow build and dives straight into the fast water, his tempos cantering crisply, his riffs tumbling easily from busy fingers. There’s no mistaking the depth of his study, nor how hard he’s worked. I don’t know of any non-African kora player who can match Mathis’s technique and fluidity.

It can be a tricky thing recording traditional music from a culture not your own. There are dangers in being too reverent to conventions, and also with being too free with innovations. Mathis negotiates these challenges with aplomb. His playing has a certain restlessness about it that might tip his hand as an American, but he’s firmly in command of the traditional idioms. Also—and this is important—his tone is exemplary, with rich, ringing overtones in high register, and resonant, humming bass lines in the low. Sonically speaking, this is a very beautiful recording.

“Allah La Ke,” one of the touchstone pieces of the Gambian kora repertoire, flows smoothly between interlocking time signatures in Mathis’s hands. On “Jiki,” melodies leap from thick beds of rhythm. “Mamaandi” works around a lilting bass riff that serves as the piece’s backbone, but here, Mathis’s shifting rhythmic textures tilt nearly as much to Phillip Glass’s cycling minimalism as to Mandinka tradition.

The lines between predetermination and improvisation are not always easy to discern in kora music. On the album’s longest piece, “Sila Mesengo,” Mathis tears through riffs that feel largely improvised, all over a tripping 12/8 rhythmic flow. Perhaps the album’s loveliest piece is the closer, “Sunjata,” for the first king of the Mande Empire in the 13th century. Again, this is the galloping Gambian version, not the calmly meditative Malian one. If I have a complaint about this impressive set, it would be that a little of that Malian-style serenity would have made a refreshing change of pace amid such relentless florid virtuosity. 

Banning Eyre, Senior Editor: Afropop Worldwide

Kane Mathis has developed a remarkable mastery of Mande music. Whether playing solo kora or with his tight, trio of balafon, kora and djembe drum, he is a pleasure to hear.  It is not only that Mathis is comfortable and well versed in the Mande repertoire; it's that when he plays, he swings in exactly the right way, probably the hardest thing for an outsider to grasp in this rich, West African tradition.  Kora music features improvisation, but like writing poetry in a foreign language, you have to follow the rules.  Mathis manages this, with phrasing, accents, tone and riffs-even the fast ones-that feel just right.  His sound is both authentic and spontaneous, good enough to sound like an insider, but relaxed and personal enough to be far more than polished mimicry.  It is rare indeed for a non-African to reach this level in any African tradition, particularly such a subtle and demanding one.  

Banning Eyre, Senior Editor: Afropop Worldwide



Listening to Kane Mathis’ kora playing brings to mind Keith Jarrett’s Koln Concert. Their instruments are similar: in Mathis’ case, the kora is a 21-stringed West African harp that he learned in Gambia. Take the guts out of Jarrett’s piano, stand them up and pluck them, and you have the same idea. Both performers employ gorgeous improvisation on top of simple rhythms; their songs meander between chord and melody, creating a continuous, crystalline drone.  


Seattle Weekly: Erik Neumann



If fresh organic sounds are an endangered species, then Kane Mathis is Greenpeace. Mathis plays the kora, a 21-stringed West African harplike instrument made from a gourd wrapped in cow skin. Mathis’ kora adds a vivid sonic quality that transports the whole thing to lofty, unexpected realms.

Seattle Times



Kane Mathis is a brilliant musician.  Whether performing on the kora, the ud, or the guitar, he displays both impeccable virtuosity and a profound understanding of the different musical traditions in his repertoire.  It is always a delight to hear him play.

Philip D. Schuyler (University of Washington, Division of Ethnomusicology, School of Music, Middle East and African music specialist)


 A master musician on the West African Kora ....... Turkish Oud, Kane Mathis combines superb technical sophistication with rich cultural insight.  His graceful performances are outstanding examples of the music of West African Mandinka......Turkish classical tradition.

 Münir Nurettin Beken Ph.D (Siena College, artist in residence University of Washington Ethnomusicology, Middle East and African music specialist)


"If World Fusion Jazz brings to mind a watered down element of the East merging with New Age-infected smooth jazz, then you're in for a real treat. A true meeting of West African traditional music with Jazz, Etienne Cakpo & Joselito Atchade cultivate a garden of musical colors, titillating the ears with the sounds of Benin. Did you ever think that the kora and the saxophone could share the same stage? They do on this album, and with surprising beauty and ease. This is true Afro-Jazz, respectful of both traditions it fuses while remaining innovative, daring, and danceable."


-Derek Sivers, President of CD Baby 



The shores of the Chesapeake Bay aren't among the first places you'd look for adepts in the art of the kora , the harplike, 21-stringed West African instrument. Maryland probably wouldn't even be in your top 100. But Baltimorean Kane Mathis has made an intense study of the instrument, making annual trips to Gambia to study with Mandinka masters and earning honors never before accorded a non-African. Bantam Ba Kouyate (Kaira) offers Mathis performing 16 traditional Mandinka tunes with fellow kora player Mora Ba Kouyate and occasional vocals from Sefai Jobarteh. The album offers a real treat: wonderful African folk melodies rendered in crystalline, rippling counterpoint

by Lee Gardner – Baltimore City Paper


The kora is finding its way into experimental compositions in jazz,funk, concert music, and the theater. But not all the new performers play these new styles. Kane Mathis, in his first kora release,collaborates with Gambian Mandinka colleagues Moriba Kouyate and Sefai Jobarteh to create a new but pure sound for the classic kora repertoire. The playing is brilliant, the voice pleasant and soulful.

Oberlin College Conservatory of Music

 -Roderic Knight, PhD, Professor of Ethnomusicology Oberlin College Conservatory of Music, Mandinka music specialist)