The West Kortright Centre presents world-renowned vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Sona Jobarteh for an evening of contemporary West African music on Saturday, June 22, at 8 PM. This kora player, guitarist, vocalist, composer, traditionalist, and innovator.
blends traditional music, blues, and Afropop in an easily accessible way with her captivating voice, strong rhythms, and catchy melodies. She’ll perform for the first time in our part of the world with acclaimed African musicians Andi McLean (bass, vocals), Mouhamadou Sarr (percussion, vocals), Derek Johnson (acoustic guitar), and Westley Joseph (drums, vocals).
The kora, a 21-stringed African harp, is an important instrument in the traditions of the Manding peoples of West Africa (The Gambia, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau). It belongs exclusively to griot families (hereditary musical families who preserve ancient stories and traditions through song), and only those who are born into one of these families have the right to take up the instrument professionally. Sona Jobarteh is the first female kora virtuoso to come from a prestigious West African griot family. Breaking away from tradition, she is considered a modern-day pioneer in an ancient, male-dominated musical tradition that has been exclusively handed down from father to son for the past seven centuries.
Sona Jobarteh’s brother, Tunde Jegede, began teaching her the kora when she was four, and by age six she was also learning 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 age eleven at the prestigious South Bank Purcell Room in London. As a young teenager, she was admitted into the Royal College of Music and the Purcell School in the U.K., where she studied western classical music and began writing compositions for full orchestra. By her mid-teens, Jobarteh was a permanent member of her brother’s acclaimed ACM Ensemble, with which she toured the world for many years, working alongside internationally renowned artists such as Oumou Sangaré, Toumani Diabaté, and The BBC Symphony Orchestra. In her late teens, she pursued her passion for ancient Manding repertoire through intense study of the kora with her father, Sanjally Jobarteh, completed a degree in African culture and linguistics at London’s SOAS University, and began to develop her identity as a solo artist.
In 2010, Jobarteh was commissioned to compose the score to Owen Alik Shahadah’s multi-award–winning documentary film The Motherland. Since then, she has been featured as solo vocalist on soundtracks to The First Grader (for which her piece won the “Discovery of the Year Prize” at the Hollywood World Soundtrack Awards in 2012), director Justin Chadwick’s 2014 blockbuster Hollywood movie Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, and on the 2016 miniseries “Roots,” based on the 1976 novel by Alex Haley.
Working in both The Gambia and U.K., Sona Jobarteh produced her solo album Fasiya in 2011 on the Heritage label. It’s a body of work that established her unique role as both a preserver and a pioneer in the griot tradition, and, in addition to the kora, it featured her abilities on the bass, ngoni, flute, guitar, and percussion. In recent years, she’s been headlining major festivals around the world, and won the 2018 Artist of the Year award at Europe’s Africa music festival in Wurzburg, Germany. Jobarteh uses her global prestige to talk about issues focused on cultural identity, gender, love, and respect while still adhering to and rooting herself firmly in her traditional cultural heritage.
Tickets are $28 ($32 day of); $24 WKC Member ($28 day of); $10 under 19; free for children 8 and under. Tickets are available online until 24 hours before the show; some may be available at the door. The ticket booth opens at 7PM on June 21; doors open at 7:30. This is an indoor concert; however, concertgoers are encouraged to come early to purchase food on-site (served by Ty’s Taco-ria, starting at 6PM) and enjoy a picnic in the bucolic West Kortright Centre valley before the show. This event is made possible with sponsorship support from Quality Inn Oneonta.
The West Kortright Centre is located midway between Oneonta, Delhi, and Stamford. Follow signs from state Route 23 in Davenport or state Route 10 east of Delhi. For advance tickets and exact travel directions, visit www.westkc.org.