I’m super-duper excited to speak with Kora virtuoso Sona Jobarteh about practice on Friday. She’s amazing. Comes from a long line of Griot masters, a musical and cultural tradition from West Africa that is at least 700 years old. When Europe was at the tail-end of the Dark Ages, travelling Griot musicians were bringing news and ceremony throughout West Africa in the Mali empire.
Ms. Jobarteh has a beautiful voice, serious kora chops, and plays other instruments, too. If you saw the flick “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” you heard her voice. Check out her music! I really like her previous album Motherland, and am just beginning to get into her most recent one, Fasiya.
Here’s a bit about Ms. Jobarteh from her web site :
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.
Don’t know what a kora is? It’s a 21-string harp from Western Africa, one of many venerable instruments from West Africa and important to life in the Malian empire for the last 700 years or more (info link). Here’s a picture: