Gambian-British born Sona Jobarteh, who became the first female Kora virtuoso to come from a West African griot family, is set for a grand concert in the heart of London, United Kingdom, to raise fund for her pet project in The Gambia – the Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music – Gambia’s first Manding music school.
The long-awaited UK appearance will see Sona with her full band on Thursday, July 17th at the Forge in London for this exclusive event that is expected to attract many of her fans. As an ardent advocator of tradition, Sona has been working on establishing this school over the past year which is dedicated to cultivating knowledge and expertise in traditional music and culture amongst the next generation of young Gambians. Named after her grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, Sona’s intent is for the success of this school to stand as an enduring testament to the invaluable legacy he left behind.
In a recent interview with TheGambia.nu, Sona spoke passionately about the idea of putting in place such a great initiative that will create the opportunity for harnessing and unlocking the potentials of youngsters to take on future music careers. “It’s a kind of like an interesting origin because myself I have always been in education – teaching children in UK and Europe generally. I have been a teacher for about nine years in different universities in UK. It has been part of me and I had always thought that one day I am going to have school in The Gambia for musicians,” Sona explained the genesis of how the school idea came about.
“The topic came up with my dad one day when I was about 18 and then he
was like well exactly the same thing was in my head. We never talked
about it before and when it came up, we had exactly the same plan
about what I wanted to do in terms of the legacy we have. So that was
basically how it became stronger in my head – it’s like my dad was
planning the same thing. So I want the curriculum to grow on my dad’s
knowledge because he has a lot of valuable knowledge about the old
tradition. I want to institutionalised some of these knowledge he has,
start to put into curriculum that can be given to children here in The
Gambia and ultimately to Europe”.
Coming from a legendary griot family, Kora Player Sona Jobarteh, who released an acclaimed album “Fasiya” in 2010 and in December featured as a solo vocalist in the Hollywood movie ‘Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom’ is well aware that catching the talents of kids young through her initiative is perhaps the best contribution she could make to the development of The Gambia’s young music industry that continues wrestle with enormous challenges.
Breaking away from tradition, she is a modern day pioneer in an ancient, male-dominated hereditary tradition that has been exclusively handed down from father to son for the past seven centuries. Born into one of the five principal West African griot families, Sona has become the first in her long family line to break from tradition by taking up this instrument professionally as a female.
Her family carries a reputation for producing renowned Kora masters, one being her grandfather, Amadou Bansang Jobarteh (ABJ) who was a master griot and remains a leading icon in The Gambia’s cultural and musical history. Her cousin, Toumani Diabaté is also known worldwide for his mastery of the Kora. Taught to play the Kora at the age of four by her elder brother Tunde Jegede, Sona started her musical
journey at a very young age.
The years spent working as a musician in the UK training in classical institutions such as the Royal College of Music and Purcell School of Music, as well as being a permanent member of her brother’s internationally acclaimed ACM Ensemble, allowed her to become immersed in a world of musical diversity many could only dream of. Sona was able to work alongside internationally acclaimed artistes such as Oumou Sangare, Toumani Diabate, Kasse Mady Diabate and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. These many influences have come together to form one of most exciting new talents from the West African Griot tradition to hit the stage in recent years.
Sona has an effortless ability to blend different musical styles, not just between the West and Africa, but also between West African musical genres. She uses her innovative stance to talk about issues to do with cultural identity, gender, love and respect whilst still referencing and rooting herself firmly in her traditional cultural heritage. She represents her tradition in a way that is easily accessible to her audiences from around the world, who are drawn in by her captivating voice, strong rhythms and catchy melodies.
About the Kora
The Kora, a 21-stringed African harp, is one of the most important instruments belonging to the Manding peoples of West Africa. It can be found in The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau. The Kora, along with a handful of other instruments, belongs exclusively to the griot families of West Africa. Only those who are born into one of these families have the exclusive right to take up these instruments professionally. It has since been a male-dominated affair,
a situation that has left women born to the griot families to respect that strong culture.