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Sona Jobarteh

Sona JobartehSona Jobarteh, born in 1983 in London in the United Kingdom is the first female Kora virtuoso to come from a west African Griot family.

Breaking away from tradition, she is a pioneer in an ancient male-dominated hereditary tradition that has been exclusively handed down from father to son for the past seven centuries.

Applauded for her skill as an instrumentalist, distinctive voice, infectious melodies and her onstage presence, Sona has quickly risen to international acclaim following the release of her critically acclaimed album Fasiya in 2011.

Also a social activist, lecturer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist, Sona is one of the most exciting new talents from the West African Griot tradition to perform on stage in recent years.

Sona has an effortless ability to blend musical styles and uses her innovative stance to talk about issues to do with cultural identity, gender, love and respect whilst still adhering to and rooting herself firmly in her traditional cultural heritage.

Sona represents her tradition in a way that is easily accessible to her audiences from around the world, who are drawn in by her captivating voice, strong rhythms and novel melodies.

In October of 2017 Sona made an empowering speech about trade, education, development, women's entrepreneurship in Gambia at the 2017 International Trade Conference held in Budapest, Hungary.

She called for a need to invest more in education and for society to address the need for cultural reform in order to support and encourage more women to go into business.

Sona JobartehThe Kora, a 21-stringed African harp, is one of the most prominent instruments belonging to the Manding peoples of West Africa in Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.

It belongs exclusively to griot families (hereditary musical families), and only those who are born into one of these families have the right to take up the instrument professionally.

Sona, who was born into one of the five principal Griot families, has become the first female to take up this instrument professionally in a male tradition that dates back over seven centuries.

Sona's family carries a reknown reputation for renowned Kora masters, most notably by her grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh who was an icon in Gambia's cultural and musical history, and her cousin Toumani Diabaté who is renowned for his mastery of the Kora.

In recent years Sona has quickly risen to international success, headlining major festivals around the world in Brazil, India, South Korea, Ghana, Mexico, Tanzania, Cote D'Ivoire, Lithuania, Poland and Malaysia just to name a few.

Sona and her music has the unique ability to touch audiences from all backgrounds and cultures.

Sona began learning the kora at the young age of four from her brother Tunde Jegede. By the age of six, she also started to learn the cello, piano and harp. She also is very proficient on the guitar.

She gave her first performance on the Kora alongside her brother at the London Jazz Café when she was only five years old, and her first solo cello recital at the age of eleven at the prestigious South Bank Purcell Room in London.

Sona JobartehAs a young teenager she was admitted into the world renowned musical institutions of the Royal College of Music and the Purcell School in the United Kingdom where she furthered her studies in western classical music.

During this time she was involved in working on several orchestral projects including the River of Sound with the Irish Chamber Orchestra, featuring Evelyn Glennie, and other collaborative works including performances with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Britten Sinfonia, Milton Keynes City Orchestra and the Viva Chamber Orchestra.

As a versatile artist Sona has collaborated as a singer, guitarist and Kora player with highly-respected musicians such as Cleveland Watkiss, Oumou Sangaré, Kasse Mady Diabaté, Toumani Diabaté, Sambou Suso, Juldeh Camara, and Damon Albarn.

Sona is also a member of the African Classical Music Ensemble which tours worldwide under the leadership of composer Tunde Jegede.

During this time she also excelled in composition and began to write her first compositions for full orchestral renditions.

By her mid-teens Sona was established as a permanent member of her brother's internationally acclaimed ACM Ensemble, with whom she toured the world for many years, having the opportunity to work alongside internationally acclaimed artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Toumani Diabaté as well as The BBC Symphony Orchestra.

In her late teens Sona continued to pursue her passion for the ancient Manding repertoire and began working on the Kora intensively with her father Sanjally Jobarteh, who is steeped in the knowledge of this ancient tradition.

Sona JobartehShe completed a degree in African Culture and Linguistics at SOAS University in London, and it was during this time that she started to develop her identity as a solo artist.

In 2010 Sona was commissioned to compose her first film score for the multi-award winning documentary film entitled The Motherland.

This soundtrack allowed Sona to cultivate a new genre in African cinematic music, bridging the gap between her African and European musical knowledge.

For this score, Sona invented a new instrument which she named Nkora, a cross between an Ngoni and a Kora in order to capture the sonic landscapes she was looking for.

This work was a milestone in Sona's musical development - Directed by Owen Alik Shahadah, the film went onto collect multiple awards around the world.

The quality of her voice brought her to the attention of the Hollywood film composer Alex Heffes in 2011, who asked her to feature as solo vocalist in the soundtrack to the film The First Grader.

The piece featuring Sona won the Discovery of the Year Prize at the Hollywood World Soundtrack Awards in 2012.

Sona later performed the piece live in Belgium, backed by a live 80-piece orchestra.

Sona JobartehThis success led to Sona being asked by director Justin Chadwick to record again as solo vocalist for the soundtrack for his blockbuster Hollywood movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom in 2014.

In 2016 Sona again featured on the music for the Hollywood series Roots based on the 1976 novel by Alex Haley.

earlier in 2011 Sona released her critically acclaimed first solo album entitled Fasiya. It was an album that was a landmark not only in her personal musical journey, but in the evolving musical tradition that she had been born into.

The album features her abilities on numerous instruments such as the bass, ngoni, flute, guitar and percussion, and also showcases her competence as a mature producer.

Working in both Gambia and the UK Sona pieced together a body of work that would establish her unique position in this tradition as both a preserver and a pioneering innovator.

Sona's work is not limited only to the stage but it also blossomed in the world of education. She has taught Kora and Manding music history to university students for many years in the United Kingdom, as well as being invited to universities in the US to deliver her unique, engaging lectures in music history which are integrated with live demonstrations on her instruments.

She also delivered a hugely successful lecture at the prestigious Weimar University in Germany attended by both students and music experts alike.

Sona JobartehIn 2014 Sona began her ambitious plans to set up The Gambia's first full time music institution for the study of traditional music.

Named after her late grandfather, the Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music now stands as a ground-breaking, unique establishment Sona dedicates a large portion of her time running.

The school is rapidly gaining increased recognition, having already attracted significant media attention such as featuring in the headline news of Gambia's national TV station, the United Kingdom's Songlines Magazine and Titan Airways in-flight magazines.

After only six months of training at the school students were invited to perform at state functions last year, and now hold a residency at the Gambia's top hotel resort Coco Ocean.

Sona's vision for the school as the country's first institutionalised centre of learning for traditional music has become a reality within the first year of its opening.

Sona welcomes people to support her school, take up volunteering and attend specialist courses for overseas students.

Sona is a beautiful woman who composes, plays and performs beautiful music whom graces the planet with her music and her presence.


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Sona Jobarteh & Band - Kora Music from West Africa


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