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Sona Jobarteh

by Abigail Richardson from MY HERO Staff

Sona Jobarteh's music is deeply rooted in the West African Griot Tradition, making her a vibrant carrier of Gambian cultural heritage. As the first woman to become a master of the kora, a unique 21-stringed instrument blending lute and harp qualities, she broke a 700-year-old male-only tradition. She was born into one of the key Griot families, with lineage tracing back to the Mali Empire, a tradition where knowledge and stories are passed from father to son. 

Raised between the UK and Gambia, Sona's musical journey started at the age of four when she first encountered the kora. Her grandfather, Amadu Bansang Jobarteh, was a revered Griot and kora master, even advising Gambia's first president. Though she studied classical instruments like the cello, piano, and harpsichord at the prestigious Purcell School of Music and the Royal College of Music in the UK, her true calling was the kora. At 17, she formally trained with her father, embarking on a groundbreaking journey in a deeply male-dominated tradition.

168282Sona JobartehChristophe Losberger via Flikr

With her family legacy guiding her, Sona's music reflects a balance between tradition and a forward-looking perspective. She leads her Afro-pop band with a unique blend of singing and kora playing, resonating with millions of fans worldwide. Despite her commitment to her native language and unique path in the music industry, Sona has achieved significant success, with over 27 million views on YouTube and up to half a million monthly listeners on Spotify.

Sona's influence extends globally through her live performances across North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. She's also composed music for the Hollywood film "Beast," starring Idris Elba, and for the award-winning movie "Motherland." Her most recent album, "Badinyaa Kumoo" (2022), champions her vision of empowering women, children, artists, and African communities to drive positive change.

168281Sona JobartehFlikr

Beyond music, Sona is dedicated to humanitarian causes. In 2015, she founded The Gambia Academy, an innovative school aiming to revolutionize education in Africa by merging high-level academics with local culture, traditions, and history. Her leadership in educational reform and social change has earned her invitations to speak at global events, including UN and UNICEF summits. In 2023, she was awarded an honorary degree from Berklee College of Music, acknowledging her contributions to music and society.

Sona Jobarteh's work embodies the blend of tradition and progress, showing that music can be a powerful force for cultural preservation and social change.

Page created on 4/18/2024 11:23:13 AM

Last edited 7/16/2024 12:09:18 PM

The beliefs, viewpoints and opinions expressed in this hero submission on the website are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs, viewpoints and opinions of The MY HERO Project and its staff.

Related Links

Sona Joarteh - The official website with tour dates and more
The Gambia Academy - With a total of 36 students, the Academy is currently running as a compact, pilot version of the larger school which will cater for up to 300 junior students in addition to senior students.