Sona Jobarteh: Kora is a way of life.

Author:Rafiq, Raji
Position:Arts / Music - Interview

The kora is an instrument played in Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Senegal, Burkina Faso and The Gambia.

The renowned kora virtuoso Maya Sona Jobarteh (right), who was born in London to an English mother, Galina Chester, is the granddaughter of the master griot, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh. Her brother, Tunde Jagede, is an accomplished player and her cousin is the celebrated kora player, Toumani Diabate.

The kora skills are usually passed from father to sonsoSona's accomplishments are unique.

She has studied the kora since the age of three, attended London's Royal College of Music, where she studied cello, piano and harpsichord, and later the Purcell School of Music (UK), to study composition. She also completed a degree at SOAS, University of London.

This interview, by Raji Rafiq, was conducted when Jobarteh was in Boston, USA for a lectureship and performance mentorship at the Berklee College of Music.

What is your view of contemporary African music?

I think there is space for every innovation and new music type that can be borne out of the continent of Africa. And I think it is particularly good if Africa can successfully develop its own popular music genre that promotes African cultures as well. So, I think that is a positive thing.

My only reservation is to appeal to artistes in this genre to try to make sure that content is effective. Content has value and what it promotes is something that we should hope to be, something that is constructive and beneficial to our cultural identity.

Are you tempted sometimes to break with tradition to appeal to a wider audience?

1 am always encouraging tradition to be innovative and tote made relevant and kept modern. That doesn't mean that we go away from tradition. There is a difference between innovating and maintaining. And there is a difference between that and actually abandoning tradition altogether and going into completely different genres that may not be rooted in the culture of whatever country you happen to be from.

Does it bother you that Western audiences are perhaps the backbone of your craft?

I am not sure I agree that 'Western audiences are the backbone of my craft'. But I think that perhaps there is the point that there is a huge Western audience for traditional West African music.

Again, I like to be specific in talking about African music. Obviously, I am only representing one tradition, one culture within a ridiculously huge number of traditions from the continent. But I would say that...

To continue reading