Sona Jobarteh | Biography

Sona Jobarteh | Biography


Latest single by
Sona Jobarteh

  Gambia - Single by Sona Jobarteh  
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  Sona Jobarteh's Official Music Video  



Album by Sona Jobarteh

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Motherland: The Score
Film Score by
Sona Jobarteh

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Sona Jobarteh - Live in Poland
Brave Festival, Poland
  Sona Jobarteh 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. Reputed for her skill as an instrumentalist, distinctive voice, infectious melodies and her grace onstage, Sona has rapidly risen to international success following the release of her critically acclaimed album “Fasiya” (Heritage) in 2011.

The Kora (a 21-stringed African harp) is one of the most important instruments belonging to the Manding peoples of West Africa (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 Jobarteh Biography  


Sona Jobarteh Biography

"Standout international act. One of the best African bands."
  Seth Jordan, Rhythms Magazine, Australia.


Ireland, Big Bang Festival 2015   Mexico, Cervantino Festival 2014

Her family carries a heavy reputation for renowned Kora masters, notably 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.

Over the past 18 months Sona has reached another level of success internationally, headlining major festivals in countries around the world such as South Korea, Tanzania, Cote D’Ivoire, Portugal, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and Malaysia just to name a few. Sona has the unique ability to communicate, transform and move audiences, many of whom know little about music from Africa. Last year Sona travelled across Mexico as the headline act on a 10-date tour, selling out venues of up to 7,000. This year has seen her go from strength to strength.




Sona's first performance at the London Jazz Café at the age of 4



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 gave her first performance on the Kora alongside her brother at London’s Jazz Café at the age of five, and her first solo cello recital at the age of eleven at the prestigious South Bank Purcell Room in London. As a young teenager she was admitted into the world renowned institutions of the Royal College of Music and the Purcell School in the UK where she furthered her studies in western classical music. During this time she also excelled in Composition and started to write her first compositions for full orchestra. 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 and The BBC Symphony Orchestra. In her late teens Sona continued to pursue her passion for 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. She 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.


Sona Jobarteh Biography  


Sona Jobarteh Biography
  "Sona Jobarteh, a griot for a new generation of west Africans”
   BBC Radio 3


  In her twenties Sona started to find a balance for her diverse knowledge of two very different traditions – that of Manding and Western classical music. This marriage manifest itself for the first time in the public eye when she was commissioned to compose the film score to a documentary film on Africa entitled “The Motherland” in 2010. Effortlessly bridging her competence in both Manding and Western musical traditions this body of work saw Sona cultivate a new genre in African cinematic music. To meet the demands of this project, Sona went even further by inventing a new instrument which she named ‘Nkora’ in order to capture the sonic landscapes she was looking for.

Drawing on her skills as a composer,
multi-instrumentalist and producer this work was a milestone in Sona’s musical development. Directed by Owen Alik Shahadah, this film went onto collect multiple awards around the world.

Following the release of this debut film score, Sona continued to explore and develop what has now become one of her most captivating qualities – her voice.
  Sona Jobarteh and Alex Heffes
Hollywood World Sound Track Awards

Sona Jobarteh Biography  


Sona Jobarteh Biography

"Beautiful voice."
  Independent, UK


The quality of her voice is what brought her to the attention of the prolific 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 was invited to perform the piece live at the awards ceremony in Belgium, backed by an 80-piece orchestra. This success led to Sona being asked by director Justin Chadwick to record once again as a solo vocalist for the soundtrack to his blockbuster Hollywood movie “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” in 2014. Sona was a guest at the premiere of the movie in London’s Leicester Square, also attended by Mandella’s daughters and Prince William. This was to become a historic landmark event when the news Mandella’s death was announced for the first time once the screening had ended.
In 2011 Sona released her critically acclaimed first solo album entitled “Fasiya”. This album was a landmark not only in her personal musical journey, but in the evolving tradition that she has been born into. This 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 The Gambia and 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.  
"Unlike any other kora album...
full of grace, warmth and passion"
Afropop Worldwide Sona Jobarteh - Fasiya
"Mould breaking"
Songlines Magazine
Sona Jobarteh - Fasiya
"One of the most recognisable daughters of the Griot Tradition"
Black History Month Magazine

Red Carpet in Cote D'Ivoire, L'Emoi Du Jazz Festival
Following the release of Fasiya, Sona turned her attention to piecing together and developing a London-based band that would be able render her music on the live stage. This took her many years to accomplish, but Sona has now achieved the formation of a highly accomplished group who capture the energy, feeling and refinement her music demands. Whether the full band or a smaller acoustic ensemble, this group never fail to bring a rich, revitalising and moving performance to the stage .
Womad UK Festival 2015   Malaysia Rainforest Festival

Lecture at Weimar University, Germany  

Sona’s work is not only limited to the stage but also blossoms in the world of education. She has taught Kora and Manding music history to university students for many years in the UK, 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. Earlier this year she delivered a hugely successful lecture at the prestigious Weimar University in Germany attended by both students and music experts alike.



The Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Music
- Gambia's first Manding Music School -

    Over the past two years Sona has turned her attention to developing traditional music education in the Gambia. In 2014 she started running 6-week projects in her home family village of Kembujeh in The Gambia, specialising in manding music and history for children between the ages of 8 and 18. The positive response was phenomenal, and before long she had more students wishing to attend her programmes than she could cater for. As a result she has since been laying the foundations to expand to a full time school, offering a high level of mainstream education integrated with a traditional music curriculum. Sona has named the school after her late grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh as a homage to both the legacy that he left behind and to her father Sanjally Jobarteh’s aspiration of establishing a kora school named after his father.
Sona is currently writing and developing the music curriculum herself, which will be implemented with her first group of full time students in January 2016. Subsequently she hopes to work with the education authorities in The Gambia to realise the introduction of a traditional music curriculum implemented in schools across The Gambia.
As an ardent advocator of tradition, Sona's intent for the success of this school is to stand as an enduring testament to the rich culture of the Manding people, and to spur the next generation to pursue their own traditional music and culture.



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