Sona Jobarteh, the first female kora virtuosa from a legendary jali (griot) family is set to perform at The ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Caroilina. Sona is the granddaughter of influential Gambian kora master Amadu Bansang Jobarteh.
Born in London and classically trained at the Royal College of Music and the Purcell School, Sona Jobarteh is a member of the Jobartehs (also kown as Diabates in other countries), one of the five major kora-playing jali families from West Africa and the first female member of such a family to rise to fame on this instrument. The kora is a 21-stringed African harp and is one of the most important instruments belonging to the Manding peoples of West Africa (Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea and Guinea-Bissau). The kora is traditionally a hereditary musical instrument performed by griot families.
The kora was solely passed down from father to son. Sona Jobarteh has become the first woman to take up this instrument professionally in a male tradition that dates back over seven centuries.
Sona is a skilled multi-instrumentalist, with an idiosyncratic vocal style and charismatic on stage.
She has quickly risen to international fame in the world music scene after the release of her much-admired album Fasiya (Heritage), released in 2011. In recent years, Sona has headlined major festivals around the world in Brazil, India, South Korea, Ghana, Mexico, Tanzania, Ivory Coast, Lithuania, Poland and Malaysia, including a recent performance at the North Carolina Folk Festival in Greensboro.
In addition to her work as performing artists, Sona composed the music for the documentary film Motherland in 2009, constructing a unique mix of European and African sounds, and even going so far as to invent a new instrument, the nkoni (a cross between the kora and the donso ngoni). She teaches the kora in London, and worked with her father, Sanjally Jobarteh, in building a formal music school in the Gambia named after her famous grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh.
The ArtsCenter is located at 300-G E. Main Street in Carrboro. For more information go to artscenterlive.org.
Yacouba Sissoko is a master kora player from the jeli tradition. He was born in Kita, Mali. His grandfather, Samakoun Tounkara, began teaching Yacouba when he was 12 years old. They raised Yacouba and educated him in his jeli heritage and in many lessons about life. Yacouba attended the Institut National des Arts du Mali in Bamako. After his graduation, he played with artists like Taye and Oumou Sacko, Haja Soumano, Djallou Demba, Ami Koita, Fantani Koure, Kandia Kouyate and l’Ensemble Instrumental du Mali.
In 1993, Souleymane Koli, the leader of the Ensemble Koteba of Abidjan recruited him. Yacouba spend the next 5 years performing all over the world with this 45-piece band. He is in demand as one of the best kora players in the world, playing with Jazz, Latin and R &B bands as well as traditional African ceremonies. As leader of his own band, Siya, and member of the group Super Mande, Yacouba continues to record with many musicians, including the groups Source, Tamalalou and Fula Flute.
Led by her love for Manding tunes, Madina N’Diaye was the only Malian woman on stage accompanied by a kora, one of the most emblematic instruments in the Malian musical heritage.
Armed with her kora, her compositions and her commitments for women’s causes, Madina opened the way to a new phenomenon in Mali: women who have access to musical instruments usually played by men or by the jeli (griot) caste.
Despite some traditionalists’ wrath, she made herself known as a talented author, composer and performer. Trained by well known masters like Toumani Diabate and Djelimadi Cissoko, she carried on her initiation by herself.
In 2003, Madina lost her eyesight because of a serious infection. Despite her handicap, she did not stop the rehearsals and completed an album.
The sound of Ballake Sissoko’s 21-string kora identifies him, along with Toumani Diabate, as one of the best kora players of a new generation of musicians in Mali. His concerts with Taj Mahal’s Kulanjan project brought him international attention.
Ballake Sissoko is the son of Jelimady Sissoko, grand master of the Manding kora, a harp with twenty-one strings whose crystalline sound has won over audiences world-wide. With his ‘big brother’ Toumani Diabate, the son of Sidiki Diabate, another illustrious figure of the jeli (oral historians and musicians) tradition, Ballake is considered one of the best kora players of the new generation. He first learned the instrument very early on at his father’s school. At the age of 14, he replaced his father in the Ensemble Instrumental National and by the late eighties he was also playing in the electric bands of the most famous jelimuso.
He remembers the difficulty of initially playing with virtuoso guitar players like Bouba Sacko and Jeli Madi Tounkara, who had picked up the techniques of the ngoni but also used western scales and rock riffs. Rising to the challenge, he was the first local kora player to master western modes and still provide the rhythmic structure to accompany the dance steps of the singers. Simultaneously following different melodic lines with his thumbs and index fingers, Jeli Moussa’s playing combines a bass accompaniment, the harmonic progressions of the rhythm guitar and intricate solo improvisations. Jeli Moussa works regularly with Kandia Kouyate, and together they toured the USA, Europe and Australia.
After performing with the prestigious Ensemble Instrumental National du Mali, and accompanying many Malian singers, he came to fame by performing solo or in duet with Toumani Diabate, Taj Mahal and a host of other musicians. In the 1980s, Malian kora music was once more revolutionized when Jeli Moussa Sissoko (called Ballake Sissoko) and Toumani Diabate, the sons of Jeli Madi Sissoko and Sidiki Diabate, introduced chord progressions played on the guitar into their father’s repertoire.
Open to every new adventure and encounter, Ballake Sissoko is a gifted instrumentalist who, inspired by tradition, was able to forge a personal style. A visionary figure and fine melodist, he is an excellent accompanist and superb composer.
On Ballake: Kora Music From Mali, Ballake is surrounded by young musicians, friends and fellows met in various ways in Bamako, and his wife, the singer Mama Draba. Fassery Diabate, son of Keletigui Diabate, bala (West African xylophone) expert and well-known performer of Malian music, freed himself too, of tradition, while still respecting its spirit. Extremely brilliant, he never falls into just technical proficiency, but exhibits astonishing maturity. Adama Tounkara is Jelimady Tounkara’s nephew, the ‘guitar hero’ of Mali music, respected conductor of the Mali’s Super Rail Band. He’s one of those many young artists who have specialized in the study of the ngoni, a small, four-stringed traditional lute dating back to the 12th century (like the bala), and which was once played at the court of Sundiata Keita, founder of the Manding Empire. It is no doubt the ancestor of the banjo and is part and parcel of the colorful sound of traditional and modern Mali music. A difficult instrument, but one which Adama Tounkara perfectly masters. Hearing this very young virtuoso, you are immediately struck by the finesse of his playing sound and phrasing and the subtle swing of his very jazzy inventions.
The youngest of the group, Aboubacar Sidiki Dembele, provides solid back-up on the bolon, ancestor of the acoustic bass, and indispensable instrument for any respectable Manding group. Mama Draba, younger and less well-known abroad than her compatriots Kandia Kouyate, Amy Koita or Oumou Sangare, is still one of the greatest singers of the new Manding music. With her deep, powerful voice and impeccable phrasing, she’s one of the great performers of the epic jeli-style Bambara and Malinke traditions.
Ballaké Sissoko is one of the members of 3MA, the meeting of three African masters: Ballaké Sissoko on kora, Moroccan ud player Driss El Maloumi, and Malagasy musician Rajery. In 2006 Sissoko, El Maloumi and Rajery met and later released a remarkable self-titled debut album in 2008.
Another project involving Ballaké Sissoko is a duo with French cellist Vincent Segal. Their superb debut album Chamber Music was critically acclaimed. The duo followed with an equally excellent second album in 2015, Musique du Nuit.
3MA released Anarouz (“Hope”) in 2018. In addition to Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi, and Rajery, the album also includes percussionist Khalid Kouhen.
New Ancient Strings / Nouvelles Cordes Anciennes (Hannibal Records, 1999) Déli (Label Bleu 2000
Master Musicians Meeting Club (Volume 1) (Saraswati, 2002 Kora Music From Mali (Indigo, 2002)
Diario Mali (Ponderosa Music, 2003)
Tomora (Label Bleu, 2004)
3MA (Madagascar Mali Maroc), with Rajery, Ballaké Sissoko, Driss El Maloumi (Contre-Jour, 2008) Chamber Music, with Vincent Segal (No Format, 2009) At Peace (No Format, 2013) Musique De Nuit, with Vincent Segal (No Format, 2015) The Routes of Slavery 1444-1888 (Alia Vox, 2017)
Anarouz (Mad Minute Music, 2017)
Balla Tounkara is a jeli (also known as griot by westerners) and master kora player from Mali, West Africa. He and his band, Groupe Spirit, have been bringing a spicy, eclectic blend of African, Latin, Funk, Reggae and Blues musical styles to enthusiastic audiences across the United States. The band regularly performs in Boston and New York City.
Balla has played with a host of world renowned musical artists, including: Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita, Jimmy Cliff, Baba Maal, Super Rail Band with Djelimady Tounkara, Ali Farka Toure, Oumou Sangare, Ami Koita, Toumani Diabate, Kine Lam, Adboulaye Diabate, Kandia Kouyate, Habibe Koite, T.J. Wheeler, John Sinclair and others. He regularly speaks out on important, pressing social issues such as AIDS and violence.
In 2002 the band was nominated as Outstanding World Music Act at the Boston Music Awares, and had the track Le Monde est Fou from their CD Be Right included on Putumayo World Music’s compilation From Congo to Cuba.
Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba – Routes (Twelve Eight Records, 2018)
Routes is the new album by North Carolina-based Diali Cissokho and Kaira Ba. Diali Cissokho is a Senegalese kora maestro who moved to Pittsboro a few years ago and formed a band with American musicians.
This new recording has deep Senegalese and North Carolinian roots. Diali Cissokho traveled with his American bandmates to his birthplace, M’bour to record an album together. The band’s bassist and producer Jonathan Henderson and engineer Jason Richmond setup a mobile unit in a hotel near the ocean and invited local musicians.
After the sessions in Senegal, the producer added North Carolina musicians to the tracks. Guests included renowned violinist Jennifer Curtis, North Carolina Heritage Award-winning mandolinist Tony Williamson, jazz and gospel vocalists Shana Tucker and Tamisha Waden, and the excellent pedal steel guitar player Eric Heywood.
The final result was Route, an eclectic and deeply satisfying album that features a mix of traditional jali (griot) kora, Afropop, Senegalese salsa and American gospel, jazz and North Carolina roots music.
Born into a family of traditional African jalis (musician-historians), Salieu Suso began training on the 21-stringed kora at the age of 8, and began his professional career by the age of fifteen. He has performed widely throughout the U.S., Africa and Europe, and is known for his diverse range of musical collaborations.
In 2003 he ventured into an exciting exploration of African and Afro-Cuban rhythms with three master percussionists: Benny Arocho (bata, bugarabu, Thai klong yaw); Olympia Ward (chekere, conga, jembe); and John Ward (jembe).
One of Salieu Suso’s songs, “Sidi Yellah” was featured on the album Badenya: Manden Jaliya in New York City, a compilation of Manden and Mandinka Music by musicians in New York City (Smithsonian Folkways Recordings, 2001)
Salieu composed Tootie’s Last Suit, the soundtrack to a documentary film.
Papa Susso is a master kora (African harp/lute) player and jali (oral historian, also known as griot) from The Gambia, West Africa. He hails from a long line of jalis from the Mandinka people.
Taught by his father, he has played kora since the age of five. The kora, a 21 stringed harp-lute, evolved from earlier hunter harps used by the Mandinka people. It is said that the Susso family invented the kora.
Today, Papa Susso, based both in the Bronx (New York City) and Gambia, is considered a goodwill ambassador, traveling throughout the world to share his culture with others.
Malamini Jobarteh was a jali and one of Gambia’s greatest musical and cultural icons. In the late 1970s Alhaji Bai Konte and Malamini Jobarteh toured Europe and North America. Malamini Jobarteh later recorded with Dembo Konte, Alhaji Bai’s son.
Malamini Jobarteh resided in Jobarteh Kunda, the Jobarteh family compound. There, he ran the Teramang Traditional Music School.
Malamini Jobarteh died July 31 in Brikama, Gambia.
Dembo Jobarteh was a member of a well know jeli family (known as Jobarteh in Gambia and Diabate in Mali). His father played the kora and his mother was a griot [jali] singer. Dembo was born in 1976 in Niani Kayai, The Gambia.
From an early age on he was taught to sing and play the kora, a harp lute. Later he also learned to drum and play bala. He spent a few years as a musician in Dakar, Senegal.
In 2001 he became the manager of Gambian Griot School of Music and Dance at Serekunda, The Gambia.
Dembo Jobarteh said. “For generations my family has held this profession. I myself started reciting stories when I was 9 years old. At that time I came to live with a marabu, a very wise and well-respected man. There I studied the Koran, music and worked in the groundnut and rice paddies. After three years I moved to another village and another job. Later I worked at a bakery. But no matter what I was doing, my musical training continued. I learned hundreds of songs and also studied the drums, balafon [bala] and singing.
Many people can learn to play the kora. But to play like a griot [jali] is a gift from God and, as we say in West Africa, also a gift from the devils. If they like you, they will teach you.
When I am alone at night I play this instrument especially for them. Life is there to enjoy. But to do so you need to be healthy. Therefore I advise people to take good care of their body and their mind and to forget about self-interest. If you share what you’ve got, you’ll improve your own life and that of others. Then you will truly enjoy life.
Yes, I like to tell people what is important in life. It is a family tradition. If I did not live according to tradition, I would miss the life that was meant for me.”
Dembo Jobarteh died on March 15, 2008 in Serekunda.