Fourteen years ago, while in college, Gaskell happened upon the Kora while watching a performance during a folk show in his hometown of Olympia, Washington. From that moment on, Gaskell dropped the clarinet and picked up the Kora.
The Kora is a 300-year-old instrument and much of the music that is played on it dates back up to 800 years, according to Gaskell. It is described as a long-necked harp lute of the Mandinka culture of western Africa. It is played with just the thumbs and index fingers of each hand and rests on the lap of musician.
Gaskell has had the opportunity to spend time in a griots’ family compound in Gambia three times over the past decade. A griot is a West African historian, storyteller, praise singer, poet and/or musician, much like a bard.
“A griot is literally a walking library,” explained Gaskell. “All of this history, dating back to the mid-1200s, is passed down orally. None of this is written down; everyone gives it their own feeling.”