The Scorpions of The Gambia on Friday registered a shocking one all draw in their first leg 2018 World Cup qualify match against the Brave Warriors of Namibia.
Despite the optimism that preceded the game, and The Scorpions’ bid to inject a new force into national football after a narrow lost to Cameroun last month in the 2017 African Cup of Nations qualifiers, the results could not but be disappointing.
The 64th minute free-kick strike of AmaZulu midfielder, Petrus Shitembi, gave the all important goal to the visitors, much to the greater disappointment of Gambian fans, who had anticipated a better result.
The Scorpions, however, hit back just six minutes remaining through Demba Savage to grab a share of the spoils.
A better result for The Gambia in the return leg on Tuesday, 13th October in Windhoek will see The Scorpions progress to the next level.
In spite of the high optimism and the huge national publicity that preceded the Gambia-Cameroun match, The Scorpions narrowly lost to the Indomitable Lions in the 2017 AFCON qualifier match.
The 65th-minute goal of Porto’s striker, Vincent Aboubakar, gave the Lions the most important goal to maintain leadership on the group with six points and two goals.
The match played at the Independence Stadium in the coastal town of Bakau, was watched by over 25, 000 spectators, the actual capacity of the country’s only national pitch.
Sunday’s game came hard on the heels of Saturday’s group encounter in Nouakchott where Mauritania shocked 10-man South Africa 3-1.
In the opening group game in June, Cameroon edged Mauritania at home 1-0 while the Gambia Scorpions held the Bafana Bafana to a goalless draw in South Africa.
That all important draw that was seen as an evolution of Gambian football at that level highly injected a great sense of optimism in both the players and the fans ahead of the game. It resulted to massive turn out of fans, filling the 25, 000 seats at the Stadium for the first time in a very long time.
The Gambians put up a respectable performance for a team like Cameroun, who were clearly on the defense line, but could not penetrate. A defensive error would cost The Scorpions and send them to a drawing board ahead of the other group matches.
“The players did very well and I am very satisfied with the performance. Even the Cameroon Coach Volke Finke admitted to me that they were lucky to win the game,” Swiss hired coach, Raoul Savoy told journalists in a post-match interview.
“It is just one mistake and they defeated us at home. We had discussed with the players in the morning before the game that the Cameroon team are experienced players and if we make mistakes, they can punish us,” he said.
Jamaican Rastafarian dub poet has joined the chorus of global condemnations against the kidnapping of over 200 Nigerians by the militant group ‘Boko Haram’, calling for the release of the secondary school girls who have been held captive for almost a month now. More than 300 girls were abducted on April 15 from their school in Chibok in the country’s remote northeast. Fifty-three escaped and 276 remain captive. The kidnappings have triggered international outrage with protests and a social media campaign being intensified. The United Sates First Lady, Michelle Obama has been leading campaign for the release of the girls under the slogan “Bring Back Our Girls.” But even Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti, Sheikh Abulaziz al-Sheikh condemned the kidnappings, saying “Boko Haram had been ”misguided” and should be ”shown their wrong path and be made to reject it”.
Adding his voice to this condemnation, Mutabaruka could not hide his outrage over the kidnappings. Born Allan Hope,Mutabaruka is currently taking part in the 11th Edition of the biennial International Roots Homecoming Festival 2014. He made the solemn call last Saturday at the Independence Stadium in Bakau before thousands of spectators who gathered to witness the nightlong musical concert. The concert featured prominent artistes including African-American singer, Yewande, one of the most-sought after independent artistes in the world, who is referred to as the “First Lady of Alternative Soul”; Jamaican artistes Sizzla Kalongi, Scratchylus and daughter, Empress Reggae, as well as a handful of Gambian artistes. Known for his unapologetic speaking about injustice, Mutabaruka didn’t mince his words when he condemned the kidnappings and challenged African leaders to measure up to their responsibilities in freeing the innocent girls, who were threatened to be sold as slaves by the ‘Boko Haram’ leader.
The artiste also stressed the need for visa waiver to enable Jamaicans and other Carribbeans reconnect to their roots given the trouble encountered in making their way home. Similarly, he also stressed the need for direct flight between Caribbean and African countries.
Mutabaruka urged African governments to divorce themselves from the colonial legacy, citing the visa requirement asone of them. “This will not stop us from coming to our home, Africa but we are saying there is psychological imbalance when we recognised that we are going home and we have to come through European countries as there is no direct flight to Africa from Caribbean countries,” he concluded.
They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step just like building a house begins with the laying of a single block. One cannot merely jump to the middle of the journey without making the first steps, which set that very journey.
For if there would be any success; it has to start from the beginning. Hence a strong foundation is therefore a very significant and an indispensable thing for any successful human endeavour. Without a strong foundation, the prospects will be uncertain, successes will be hindered, and all endeavours will be completely weak and bound to end in exercise in futility.
But how about those who want to develop their careers? Certainly, a strong foundation could yield them excellence and promote their talents more rapidly. One area where a strong foundation is lacking is in the area of music in The Gambia. Of recent, there has been a lot of interest from Gambians wanting to pursue a career in music.
Their talents are exhibited when they take to the platforms, but one could easily notice some defections because they didn’t have the chance to harness their skills through a formal introduction. Catching the talents young and water them adequately could be the ultimate way out for a definite and prosperous career.
This is why the focus of this article looks at the great initiative of The Gambian UK-based first female international kora player, winner of BBC World Music Award, who together with her father, Sanjally Jobarteh, co-founded the first ever Manding school of music dubbed “Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music.”
Sanjally Jobarteh is the son of the late master Griot Amadou Bansang Jobarteh. He is now established as a leading master kora player from the Gambia, uniquely grounded in some of the oldest repertoire of the kora. Over the past 30 years Sanjally has worked across numerous genres of music, toured the world and now based in Norway, continues to collaborate with artists from around the world.
The idea behind this apt initiative is just what has been explained earlier – building the very foundation.
Coming from a legendary griot family, Kora Player Sona Jobarteh, who released an acclaimed album “Fasiya” in 2010 and recently 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 this 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.
This initiative has come to fill a great void in the country’s music industry. It is a glaring fact that for far too long, Gambian music
has been trailing behind many African countries due to lack of structures like formal school and good foundation as well as a real
identity as it is the case in many other places.
Very few Gambians have made it to international stardom as most of the music produced in the country are for home use. Perhaps a little work on them could make them internationally marketable. And so long Gambian artistes cannot produce music genre of international standards, they stand a little chance to reap the fruit of their talents.
This explains all the more reason why it is important that initiatives like the Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music should be highly supported for it serves as a great platform for the production of the next generation of Gambia singers and instrumentalists.
Located in her native Gambian village of Kembujey, Kombo Central, West Coast Region, this school provides training for a dozen children – male and female – who are being tutored on different modules of music ranging from balafong, drumming, dancing, singing and storytelling.
Being The Gambia’s first school dedicated exclusively to the study of Manding music, the institute’s mission is to promote and cultivate knowledge and expertise in traditional Manding music amongst youngsters in The Gambia.
“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.
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,” Sona Jobarteh indicated the genesis of the initiative in a chat with me after watching the rehearsals of the first public performance by the school recently.
The students’ performance was impressive in that not only did they showcase their great talents in singing, dancing and storytelling, especially the Manding history and culture, they also displayed their skills on how to effectively play vital musical instruments like drums and balafong, which are part of the lessons. The students’ sense of enthusiasm, determination and the tenacity to excel was impressive, and this, goes to point out the relevance and effectiveness of the modules being taught.
“Manding music and the griot tradition still hold a vital role in Gambia society; it has gained a powerful presence in the international music scene through the success of artists such as Toumani Diabate and Salif Ketia.
However, currently Gambia’s prominence in this international music scene falls well behind other countries such as Mali and Senegal, and thus the school has a fundamental role to play in helping young Gambian musical talent to flourish and gain recognition on both a national and international level.
A recent survey carried out by the school revealed that 92% of the children interested and currently attending the school knew very little about the history of their musical culture. This is something we want to change, whilst also using it as a platform to introduce further valuable education in areas such as music theory, music production, music industry, management studies and social studies.”
Given the strides of a school that was only set up a few months ago, the need to support it for expansion cannot be less underscored. This is why the role of the private sector and relevant government establishments come into play. In recent times we have seen the private sector extending support to some artists at a minimal scale, but the surest investment that will have a long-lasting impact in my view would be injecting resources into initiatives like the Amadou Bansang Jobarteh School of Music.
The reasons could only be the obvious – such will go a long way towards helping the school grow and enroll more Gambian youngsters who will be graduated at the end of their programme as the next generation of Gambian artists.
The school’s primary initiative is to support Gambian students in their musical education. Currently offering classes to students on
free-of-charge basis, however that might not be sustainable in the near future as running such an institution requires enormous resources to meet the targets and goals. That means children would eventually pay something to be able to enrolled and get their lessons.
“The lessons are offered free at the moment and that’s why we are looking for sponsorship because we want to support Gambian students. It is designed to be an international school that will support The Gambian people,” Sona solicited.
The school is perusing the opportunity for exchange programmes for students with schools and universities from Europe and other parts of Africa such as Mali where we currently have connections, according to Sona.
“The school brand is Manding music as its umbrella and so it’s concentrating on that. But obviously we will also educate children a
lot wider than beyond playing kora and balafong. We will start with kora, balafong, dancing and singing and traditional Manding drumming. But later we will start to teach music theory, music production and recording, music industry education, as well as music management. These are all things we want to look into,” she concluded.
Preparations for the much publicised 11th edition of the International Roots Festival are in full-swing with the members of the National Organising Committee under the aegis of The Gambia’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture putting in final touches for next month’s event.
Scheduled to take place from the 9th to 17th May, this year, this biennial historical, cultural and educational event is expected to be graced by people of African descent as well as those persons committed to the well being of Africans and the development of the continent.
The Roots 2014, official said, commemorates the enforced enslavement and transportation of millions of Africans to the Americas and the Caribbean Islands. Thus, the event, which is one of the most recognised in Africa, provides the opportunity for Africans in the Diaspora to discover their identity, connect with their roots, learn their lost cultural and traditional heritage, as well as establish stronger family bonds and ties with the African family in The Gambia. Since its inception, it has rapidly gained recognition and each edition brings a difference experience. It had in the past attracted the attention of some world class and highly celebrated personalities, among them, Jermaine Jackson of the Jackson family in the United States, Rockmond Dunbar, renowned artist Chaz Guest, all in the United States, who joined thousands in the 10th edition held in 2010. In fact the 10th edition was spiced up by a superb tribute concert by Jermaine Jackson for his late world renowned pop superstar, Michael Jackson. That concert was attended by thousands of Gambians and non-Gambians at the Independence Stadium in Bakau.
This year’s event, according to officials, is billed to be attended by the son of Marcus Garvey, Dr. Julius Garvey, and renowned Jamaican dancehall stars like Sizzla Kolonji, Mutaburaka and Scratchylus and other artistes. The Jamaican stars are expected to team up with The Gambia’s finest artistes to stage a grand musical concert at the Independence Stadium of Bakau on May 10th.
Popular Senegalese international music star, Youssou N’dour, has been warming up for his first major series of concerts in The Gambia after re-launching his career in 2013, which was suspended by party politics in his home country.
The influential musician, who runs several media outlets in Senegal including a television and radio station has recently signed over D3M (three million dalasis) contract with the Social Security and Housing Finance Corporation Staff Association (SSHFC) for a three-day concerts in The Gambia this month.
Ever since the deal was sealed for performance in The Gambia, fans of the star have been reacting positively to the development in that it has been several years since Youssour last performed in Banjul. Expectations are high that his Banjul concerts will attract thousands of people near and far to witness Youssour live on stages in The Gambia. But they have been even eager to see him, especially after releasing new singles at last year’s Bercy concert in France. It will be recalled that the Grammy Award winning artist and his Super Etoile Band took the world by storm when they made a music comeback at a grand concerts on October 12th 2013, at the Palais Omnisports De Paris, Bercy, France where hundreds of thousands from across Europe and African had attended. Since that time, Gambians have been looking forward to an opportunity to see him again live in concerts in their home country.
Also to be featured during Youssour’s concerts in The Gambia is the country’s most celebrated artist and kora maestro, Jaliba Kuyateh, who in January launched his twin albums at the Sahel Fitness Center in Bijilo. Other Gambia artists have also been lined up to perform alongside Youssour in concerts to be held at the Independence Stadium and the Pencha Mi hall in Kololi.
Update 2014.04.06, Concert dates as follows April 18th – Independence Stadium April 19th – Pencha Mii Hall, Paradise Suites Hotel April 20th – Independence Stadium
Prominent American artist pledges to promote tourism, cultural exchange in Gambia Renowned American artist who suggested the renaming of the famous James Island to now Kunta Kinteh Island appears to be living no stone unturned when it comes to fulfilling his role as the country’s Goodwill Ambassador in the United States, pledging to ”promote tourism and cultural exchange in the country.”
Chaz Guest, a talented artist with many years of excellent
professional career, who visited The Gambia three years ago, has just
been named by the African Diaspora Tourism as the United States
national spokesperson for the upcoming 2014 International Roots
Festival taking place in The Gambia, West Africa from May 9-17.
The Organisation said Guest was chosen ”because of his notability, his
creative genius as an artist and because of his love for The Gambia
and its cultural heritage.”
But in an exclusive interview with TheGambia.nu Magazine, Guest, who
took part in the last International Roots Home Coming Festival, affirmed his commitment to sell The Gambia overseas and promote its rich cultural heritage.
”I am truly touched and deeply moved by this position. I take it very
seriously,” Guest reacted to this new appointment.
”I promote for people to come to the Smiling Coast, to enrich one’s
self in the culture. My role is to encourage tourism and cultural
exchange. I intend to do this in a very open way,” he reiterated.
A dedicated artist, Guest also shared his experience on African culture
when he first visited The Gambia and had the opportunity to attend a
rich cultural extravaganza as part of the 2011 International Roots Festival.
”I found it missing from my very existence. There is sadness to that,
but also in finding one’s self, it is a celebration as well. I found
African culture there in The Gambia, necessary to bring to the rest of
the world; such a little country with the biggest heart,” he noted.
The highly celebrated artist said even before his first Africa visit,
he always had that strong conviction that Africa was ”magic and
” I was invited to what would be the changing aspect of my life. So my perception was that I was coming home,” he said.
With his experience and influence, Guest believes he can somehow
encourage others like him, who are completely disconnected with their
roots, to discover theirs as well. His argument is that when he
visited The Gambia, he found his own self completed.
”I want this for others because I see that they are lost. Looking for
the answer, you will find it here. We have been taught only negative
things of Africa, but now I see why they needed to keep such awesome
people apart!!! We are awesome! So this gap must be bridged,” he
It takes more of courage and a great sense of vision to make a difference and in fact establish a position in a trade that is highly competitive and challenging in nature. This becomes even more challenging especially if one is a woman, given the widely held superiority perceptions that have pervaded the minds of many a man. For many centuries, Kora playing has been viewed as an exclusive affair for men, in that it is a strong hereditary entity that is exclusively handed down to a son by the father.
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.
However, Gambian-British, Sona Jobarteh, became the first female Kora virtuoso to come from a West African griot family. 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.
One of Sona’s most captivating qualities is her voice. Although only taking up her ability to sing very recently, she has since fast been gaining a reputation for her voice alone. Most recently her voice has landed her the big role of vocalist in the forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster movie “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” to be released in the United Kingdom in January 2014.
Over the past four years the Kora maestro has been carefully piecing together her band. Forming a UK-based band that is both sympathetic and sensitive to the subtle idioms of the Kora repertoire has not been an easy task, but Sona has now put together a group of inspiring musicians from different parts of Africa who manage to render her music beautifully onstage, whilst still embodying each of their own diverse musical identities. Whether the full band or a smaller acoustic ensemble, this group of musicians never fail to bring a rich, revitalising energy to the stage.
She describes her latest album, released in 2011 entitled, “Fasiya” as a landmark not only in her musical journey, but in the continuously evolving tradition that she is a product of. Into this album Sona has poured not only her abilities as a multi-instrumentalist and composer, but also her competence as a keen producer. Working in both The Gambia and the UK, Sona pieced together the many elements she needed to produce a work of art that would reflect her unique position in this tradition as both a preserver and innovator.
I caught up with her in a marathon online interview recently and she tells us her story as it is.
GN: Thank you so much Sona for accepting this interview and I am happy to indeed host you. Since this is your maiden appearance on this column, who is Sona?
Sona: My name is Sona Jobarteh; I am an international Kora player, musician, composer and producer whose family originates from The Gambia and the United Kingdom.
GN: Sona you are the only female Kora player the country has produced so far. Your story is indeed interesting in that kora playing was seen as a male-dominated hereditary that has been exclusively handed down from father to son. But you have managed to break that culture? Tell us how it all started for you?
Sona: This started with my brother teaching me to play. When I was very young, my brother Tunde Jegede was studying the Kora with my grandfather Amadou Bansang Jobarteh as well as with my father Sanjally Jobarteh. So as a consequence he started to teach me to play as well. When he was at home practicing I would be sitting alongside him learning to play the basics. Later in life when my playing was more developed I then started to study with my father Sanjally Jobarteh.
GN: Sona let me take you back to your 2011 visit to The Gambia where you launched your album. How meaningful was that experience?
Sona: This experience was very meaningful indeed. This was the first time I was coming to The Gambia to perform. Unbelievably I have been to The Gambia so many times spending time with the family but after all these years of performing around the world I had never taken to the stage in The Gambia – the place where it all started! So this was a very momentous occasion for me. Also it was a dream that I had for many years, to be joined on stage with so many members of my own family all at one time. I had my father Sanjally on the Kora, my uncle Sankung Jobarteh on the guitars, and my young cousin Musafily Jobarteh on djimbe.
GN: During the said launch at the Alliance Franco, I remember when you played the song titled ‘Musso’; your entire Gambian family came on the stage singing. What was special about that song?
Sona: This song is about women, and I wrote it in dedication to women because of being inspired by playing the Kora professionally as a female myself. It highlights the importance of female strength, courage and independence.
GN: How much has Amadou Bansang inspired you?
Sona: Amadou is know by so man, not just in The Gambia but internationally. He was one of the leading kora masters of his generation. The legacy that Amadou left for the entire family inspires me greatly. In fact it was because of this that I first started to think seriously about recording my own album, as well as being one of the inspirations for the title of the album, “Fasiya”. I feel so fortunate to be one of his descendants and I hope that my career will in some way contribute to the lineage that has been passed down to me.
GN: How about your father, Sanjally Jobarteh? What does he do and how inspirational has he been to you?
Sona: My father is himself a leading Kora player internationally, and has toured Europe as well as Africa. I feel that he is currently the one carrying the torch for the repertoire of the Kora that was passed on to him by his father. He spent most of his childhood and adolescence studying and playing Kora with his father, and so has taken so much knowledge of the Kora from him. This is why I started to study with my father so that I could start to learn some of the real roots of the instrument and some of the old repertoire that many people do not play anymore. Studying with my father actually helped me to find my voice on the Kora. This is something that I will always be developing, but the first step was the most important one.
GN: Sona there seem to be a decline in terms of interest among Kora players in preserving this prestigious heritage. What do you think could be attributed to this and what do you think can be done to preserve this for generations yet unborn?
Sona: There are of course a lot of other influences coming into the country from other parts of the world (especially America). I do not think this is a negative thing, but I always say that it is just as important for people to continue to learn and preserve their own traditions. Working with people in Europe, I think it is often such irony because many people in Europe are amazed and envious of the traditions they find in West Africa, but meanwhile those in West Africa are often more interested in what Europe has to offer than the richness and strength of the traditions they already have. But to be fair, when I look around I do see a lot of young people in The Gambia who are very talented players not just on the Kora but on other instruments too. So I think this is very encouraging. I think that the support for these musicians in The Gambia needs to be raised to a higher level in order to continue to encourage people to take up their traditional instruments. I love change, innovation and collaboration, but it is just as important to retain the roots, otherwise we will be left with nothing.
GN: As a Kora player, I am sure a lot is already on your mind in terms of preserving this heritage. But if I may ask, do you plan to establish a Kora school in The Gambia? If yes, how do you intend to go about it?
Sona: My father has been working on setting up such a school for many years, and I too have plans to assist in this enterprise. But for this to be realised on my part, I myself need to be residing in The Gambia. I will be returning to The Gambia at the end of next year and will continue to pursue these initiatives then, as well as sourcing out funding to support some of the objectives.
GN: I also believe that one way of promoting the preservation of the Kora is for Gambian Kora players both at home and abroad to team up and stage a major Kora festival in The Gambia at least once a year. Has this ever been on your mind, and if yes, how do you think this can be achieved?
Sona: To my knowledge there was supposed to be a Kora Festival in The Gambia in Brikama last year proposed by Oko Drammeh and I had planned to attend it but unfortunately it did not hold. I am certainly keen to support festivals such as this to gain even more attention to the international community. Meanwhile I am looking forward to attending it once it comes up.
GN: Well some are with the belief that the Kora in fact originated from The Gambia. Do you share this widely held belief among Gambians?
Sona: Old written texts written by a number of historians and ancient travelers during the 17th and 18th centuries, as well as oral tradition as told by my grandfather and other well-established griots all agree on the origins of the Kora. It dates back to the time of the Kabu Empire and is attributed to the griot Jeli Mady Wuleng. Of course, during the time of the Kabu Empire the colonial borders of The Gambia as we know it today were not in existence. But the Empire of Kabu centered in modern-day Guinea Bissau and extended up into Cassamance. This information along with other studies about African culture and history is very important to be taught to the young generation in Africa. Knowledge of history is one of the most powerful tools for liberation, pride and independence. Too often I find that Europeans study more about African history than Africans themselves. This needs to change.
GN: Which Kora player has inspired you and why?
Sona: There are many Kora players that have inspired me over the years! I lose count… But just to name some of the major ones – my brother, my father and my grandfather. Also Ballaké Cissoko, Jeli Moussa Cissoko, Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté, Bouly Cissoko. There are many more and I am sure over the years many more will come! All of these players have touched me in some way and I think to become a great player you must learn something from all of your role models and then come up with something new that is also a tribute to them all.
GN: What do you think of Jaliba Kuyateh?
Sona: I would love to meet Jaliba when I am next in The Gambia! I hear so much about him, but still I have not met him as yet. He is one of the few Gambian players that have gained a lot of success internationally, so I have a huge amount of respect for him not just as a Kora player but also as a musician, singer and ambassador for The Gambia.
GN: Sona since you have broken off the record to become the only female Kora player of our time by taking up this instrument professionally, what have been your achievements as well as challenges? Tell us more about your journey?
Sona: I think the biggest challenge is always trying to live up to my own expectations because there is such mastery of music in my family line. I feel that I have a lot to live up to. But I feel very humbled that I am having the opportunity to perform around the world and that my music is being welcomed so positively in so many different countries. It has shown me firsthand what powerful tool music can be in crossing both cultures and languages. The journey to where I am now has been a life-long one, but I have learnt so much along the way from so many diverse places and am continuing to learn all the time. I have been fortunate to have had the opportunity to share the stage with some top musicians such as Toumani Diabate, Oumou Sangare, Kasse Mady Diabate and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra from the UK. My most recent success has been featuring as a vocalist on the forthcoming Hollywood blockbuster movie Mandella: Long Walk to Freedom, which has been privately screened to some of the top people in the world such as the Mandela family in South Africa and President Obama in the US. Also I have recently secured funding from the British Council to travel with my band to Tanzania to perform at one of East Africa’s largest music festivals called “Busara” next year.
GN: Tell us how elated you were when selected to sing on the Hollywood blockbuster movie on Mandela: “Long Walk to Freedom”?
Sona: I was so honoured to be asked to sing on the movie. I sang on the previous film made by this director, Justin Chadwick, two years ago, and the track that I sang on won the award at the International Film Soundtrack Awards held in Belgium. So it was amazing to be asked back again to sing on his next film, in addition to this film being such a milestone in history.
GN: How did you and all the rest react to the news of the passing of Nelson Mandela on the very day his movie was being screened in London?
Sona: It was the strangest experience. Mandela actually passed away during the screening of the film, so no one knew that it had happened. When the film finished Idris Elba and the producers came to the stage to announce that he had passed away while we had been watching. The daughters of Mandela who were also at the screening had asked for the screening not to be stopped, and instead for the news to be broken to the audience once the film had finished. When the producer told us the news the audience all gasped, and people started weeping and crying, and others stood frozen in shock, others had to be escorted out who were uncontrollable with grief. No one moved from their positions for a long time – no one could believe the timing of it. Everyone present felt that this was not a coincidence – it was like a huge chapter in life closing – as if he was saying that his job on this earth was done, and it was now time for him to leave his message behind. We are now left with the task of honoring his name by striving to uphold the convictions of this man – to fight for equality for all human beings on this earth, because it is a basic human right for all people to live free from poverty and racism. We are still very far from reaching this.
GN: Musafilly Jobarteh is your cousin and no doubt an inspiring teenage Gambian drummer. What can you comment on his talent?
Sona: This is the prime example of the much needed support of young rising talent. He carries the griot music in his bones and he was a born musician. One of the best things also is that he stands as an inspiration and role model to other youngsters to take up their instruments and study them to the highest level, just as he has done. All of us now have a duty to support and nourish this talent. The future of Musa is so bright and I have been working hard to promote and spread the word about him wherever I have been going internationally. I would really love to do some work with him when I come to the Gambia next year. The world needs to see this amazing talent!
GN: Before taking leave of you, what would be your last words to fellow female griots about taking the Kora professionally?
Sona: I would say that it is not an easy journey, and the Kora must always be respected as a male instrument (I will need a separate interview to fully explain that comment before people think I’m being sexist!) But very briefly, every instrument has its own character, just like a human being. So to really play that instrument you must first try to understand the character of the instrument you are learning to play, and also to try to embody some of it for yourself – if you are a female this may not come naturally. So it is a fine balance between your musicianship and your femininity. But in conclusion I will always encourage women to pursue whatever path it is that they most desire, as long as it is true to themselves. And you must always give whatever you do in life 100%!
GN: Any final words?
Sona: I’m very happy to say that I will be coming to The Gambia quite a lot over the next year. I really look forward to it, and also at working with some new artists with regards to production. I have just finished producing a new single for The Gambian artist Kumba Kuyateh which will be released very soon, and I plan to be doing more work with artists when I come.