Sona Jobarteh is 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.
The Kora is a 21 stringed African harp, and is one of the most important instruments belonging to the Manding peoples of West Africa. It can be found in 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. Sona, who was born into one of the five principal West African Griot families, 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 heavy reputation for renowned Kora masters, one being her Grandfather, Amadu Bansang Joberteh who was a Master Griot and remains a leading icon in 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, later further developing her expertise under the tutorship of her father Sanjally Jobarteh.
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 Sona to become immersed in a world of musical diversity many could only dream of. Sona was able to work alongside internationally acclaimed artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Toumani Diabaté, Kasse Mady Diabaté 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.
One of Sona’s most captivating qualities is her voice. Although only pursuing her ability to sing later in life, she has fast been gaining a reputation for her voice alone. Sona’s vocals were featured in the Hollywood blockbuster movie “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” which was released in the United Kingdom in January 2014. In addition to this, the track Sona featured as solo vocalist in the film "The First Grader" directed by Justin Chadwick won the "Discovery of the Year Prize" at the Hollywood World Soundtrack Awards.
This saw Sona gain her first opportunity to perform as a solo vocalist at the awards ceremony live with an 80-piece orchestra.
In 2010 Sona composed the film score to the Multi-Award winning documentary film "The Motherland", directed by Owen Alik Shahadah. Notably for the accomplishment of this score Sona invented a new instrument which she named the 'Nkora'. Drawing on her skills as a classically trained composer, as well as a producer and multi-instrumentalist this body of work sees Sona pioneering a new genre in Africa cinematic music.
Sona spent many years 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 achieved the formation of 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.
LATEST ALBUM "FASIYA"
In 2011 Sona released her critically acclaimed album entitled “Fasiya” which was 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 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.
ABJ MUSIC SCHOOL, GAMBIA
As an ardent advocator of tradition Sona has been working on setting up Gambia’s first manding music school over the past two years 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, and informally set up by her father Sanjally Jobarteh, Sona’s intent is for the success of this school to stand as an enduring testament to the invaluable legacy her grandfather left behind as well as to inspire the next generation to stick with their traditional music and culture.
Sona Jobarteh - Kora, vocals, acoustic guitar
Lekan Shayobiyi - Electric Guitar
Derek Johnson - Acoustic Guitar
Westley Joesph - Drum Kit
Mamadou Sarr - Percussion
Andi Mclean - Bass