Born in London, Sona Jobarteh is part of the five main Kora-playing Griot families from West Africa. She is a professional Kora player, an instrument which has 21 strings and is a mix between a lute-bridge-harp. The Kora is one of the most important musical instruments for the Manding people of West Africa (Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau). The practice of playing the Kora is transmitted hereditary from father to son, belonging exclusively to the Griot families who are allowed to play professionally. Sona, is the first female Griot Kora player, rising in a profession which has been male dominated for more than seven centuries. Her music has been influenced by two famous family members: her grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, a significant icon in Gambia’s cultural history, and her cousin Toumani Diabaté, who is known for his exceptional skill at playing the Kora.
Sona has performed all across the globe, from Africa to Europe and Asia, introducing to various cultures the rhythms of Gambian music. She is a well praised musician and has a warm presence on stage, distinctive voice, skills as an instrumentalist, and infectious melodies.
She has also been remarked for her work on the multi-award winning documentary entitled ‘The Motherland’. For the soundtrack of the film, she invented a new instrument called the ‘Nkora’, which is a fusion between the Ngoni, another instrument with strings, and the Kora. This innovation in the world of African music enabled Sona to seize the sonic beauty of the landscape. Her work on the soundtrack of ‘The Motherland’ offered her the opportunity of showing her skills as a composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Directed by Owen Alik Shahadah, this film has been awarded across the world.
The quality and the unicity of her voice attracted the attention of a successful Hollywood film composer, Alex Heffes, who in 2011 offered her the role of a solo vocalist in the soundtrack of the film called ‘First Grader’. The piece she performed won the “Discovery of the Year Prize” at the Hollywood World Soundtrack Awards in 2012.
In 2011 Sona released her critically acclaimed first solo album entitled “Fasiya”. The album represents her personal musical journey and the ever developing tradition that she has been born into. It also presents her abilities on various musical instruments such as the bass, ngoni, flute, guitar and percussion, and reveals her capacities as a mature producer. Growing up both in The Gambia and the UK enabled Sana to produce a body of work which encapsulates her experience as an individual belonging to two separate cultures.
In 2014 Sona began to establish her dream of setting up Gambia’s first cultural Academy. She started by founding the Junior department which has been very successful, students gaining both national and international recognition for their skills. They have partaken in several State events and opening ceremonies, while also performing frequently at top hotel resorts in the country. The success of the school has been noticed by the German president who personally visited the school. Now Sona is working towards the expansion of the academy, physically as well as developing the curriculum. The Gambia Academy of Culture is looking forward to receive volunteers. If you are interested in volunteering, you can find more information on their website http://www.sonajobarteh.com/thegambiaacademy.html .
The Gulbenkian is hosting Sona Jobarteh on Tuesday the 19th of March, at 8 o’clock for £12, for students. The tickets can be bought at the till in the Gulbenkian or their website https://uk.patronbase.com/_Gulbenkian/Sections/Choose?prod_id=DRA&perf_id=1 .