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Vieux Farka Toure

Sona Jobarteh

The first female kora virtuoso ... a modern woman in an ancient, male dominated hereditary tradition 

Monday 14th November 2016, 7.30pm

Yellow Arch Studios, Sheffield


Sorry - no report available.

Click below to see the official video for Sona's song "Gambia" 

Sona Jobarteh is the first female kora virtuoso.  She is a modern day woman in an ancient, male-dominated hereditary tradition that has been exclusively handed down from father to son for the past seven centuries.  She has modernised the presentation of kora music, playing while standing and singing to her rhythmic arrangements with electric instruments in a modern band. 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.


Sona was born into one of the five principal West African griot families – the historian/musician/poet/storytellers whose lineage stretches back centuries. Only those who are born into one of these families has the exclusive right to take up the kora professionally. Her grandfather, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, was the Gambia’s most celebrated kora player; her cousin is the great Toumani Diabaté; her father Sanjally Jobarteh is a highly respected kora player; her brother Tunde Jegede is a composer and accomplished kora and cello player who taught her kora from the age of two, as well as classical instruments, like the cello, which set her on the path of Western classical tradition.

A recent article in Songlines magazine explored the problems, contradictions and indeed discrimination that she was presented with while studying within the Western classical tradition at London’s Royal College of Music and the Purcell School: she recalled comments like ‘you’re doing quite well for an African’. The internalisation of that discrimination made her self-conscious of her griot heritage and perhaps delayed her “glorious return to Mande music” with the release of her debut album Fasiya in 2011.

The article also explored the issue of gender. Where initially she had not wanted to talk about being a female kora player … she was a kora player. But over the years she has recognised the fact that there may be many women who have taken inspiration from her and is happy to explore the differences between men and womens’ playing.

Education has always been an important part of Sona’s life.  Recently she established the Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music in Brikama in the Gambia in memory of her grandfather.  While the school’s main focus is music, Sona has developed a fully integrated curriculum which attempts to make up for a broken national education system. She is also certain that the teaching must also take seriously the presentation of African culture to the children and the wider world to ensure that it is treated with the respect accorded to Western and Eastern classical cultures. The school will soon start accepting international students – not only to achieve greater international recognition but also to subsidise the next intake of Gambian children. 

Over recent years Sona has put together a group of inspiring musicians from different parts of Africa who render her music beautifully on stage, 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 has played many festivals in recent years including WOMAD UK, Rainforests in Malaysia, Brave Festival in Poland and even this year’s Glastonbury.

This will be a fascinating evening ... a chance to explore from a very different perspective so many issues which have been touched on in previous TalkingGigs in the company of a truly thoughful artist  ... and the chance to hear a full set of music one of the most exciting acts on the international music scene, playing with her band in one of only a handful of UK dates this year.

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