Maya Sona Jobarteh was born in London of West African (Gambian) descent and is the first female professional kora player. She also studied cello, piano, and harpsichord at the Royal College of Music.
The kora, a West African instrument whose sound resembles that of a harp, is made of a half calabash that functions as the sound resonator covered with cow skin, a long wooden neck, and 21 strings, 11 of which are played by the left hand and 10 plucked by the right hand (thumbs and index fingers). Each of the 21 strings is a different note.
Sona Jobarteh began to learn the kora at age three, and first learned from her older brother because traditionally, it is the male lineage that carries on the playing of the kora. Both Sona’s father and grandfather were professional and well-known kora players from one of the family lines traditionally connected with this ancient instrument—the lineages of jalis or, in French, griots. There are only five such families in West Africa. Jalis are historians, storytellers, musicians, and poets and have always had an influential position in society, much like the troubadour or court musician and historian had at the royal houses in former times. It is said that the kora instrument originally was played only for kings and queens.
Sona’s decision to become a professional kora player was unprecedented for a female. She has stayed in line with the responsibilities of a griot—which include educating one’s people on history and ancient traditions—by founding a school in western Gambia to teach children the use and meaning of their musical heritage.
“That’s what I would like to be remembered for: What I contributed to the next generation; what I contributed for cultural preservation; and what I contributed for people’s empowerment based on their own identity.”
Full concert in 2016 in Weimar, Germany, with the featured song above.
Sona Jobarteh’s Official Homepage
Sona Jobarteh on Wikipedia