Sona Jobarteh is the first professional female Kora virtuoso to come from any of the West African Griot dynasties. Her lineage carries a formidable reputation for renowned Kora masters, most notable amongst these are her grandfather Amadu Bansang Jobarteh and her cousin, the legendary Toumani Diabaté. Sona is reputed for her skill as an instrumentalist, her distinctive voice, infectious melodies and her grace onstage, and she has rapidly achieved international success as a top class performer. The demand for her live performances has rocket in recent years, and 2019 saw her perform at some of the world’s most renowned festivals & venues such as the Hollywood Bowl in LA, WOMAD in Australia & New Zealand and Symphony Space in New York City. Sona has the unique ability to touch audiences globally and from all backgrounds & cultures, while also commanding the attention of sitting presidents & royalty alike. Her captivating stage show has proved to be popular everywhere, and with a repertoire that exudes accessible sophistication, her audience demographic is constantly expanding. Sona’s dedication to spreading powerful humanitarian messages through her songs and her stage performances makes her much more than a regular musician; she is in fact a compelling social activist, speaker, & change-maker who believes in leading by example. Her achievements in setting up a pioneering Academy in The Gambia, alongside her dedication to social change has gained her invitations to deliver speeches at high profile events around the world, including summits for the UN & the World Trade Organization. Sona founded the Gambia Academy in 2015. This pioneering institution is dedicated to achieving her mission of educational reform across the continent Africa. According to Sona, Africa faces the crucial & urgent challenge of addressing its education systems. Children who are fortunate enough to be able to attend school spend most of their waking hours in school, however in most cases the environment, culture, approach & curricula content within these schools are invariably oriented around a post-colonial value system and subsequently a foreign perspective. For Sona, it is detrimental for future generations of the continent whose values and concepts are shaped during their school years, to continue to be trained within a system where African culture, African history, African traditions and their intrinsic values are either non-existent, or at best relegated to the position of extra-curricular ‘activities’. This Academy is therefore the first of its kind in The Gambia to deliver a mainstream academic curriculum at a high level, while also bringing the culture, traditions and history that belong to students, to the front and center of their everyday education.
I had the honor of catching up with Sona ahead of her March 21st event in Madison at the Garver Atrium. Fresh off her 60 Minutes interview that certainly opened more doors and windows to what she has been doing and where she is heading, Sona and I discuss a little about what a newer person to her music can expect at a live event such as the one here in Madison. We learn about some of the music we may here from here latest release, “Badenyaa Kumoo” and how she feels while presenting the music live – the conversation. I could not spend time with Sona without touching on the powerful work she has dedicated as her purpose in life, The Gambia Acadamy. We touch briefly on a few aspects of the what that is happening to help achieve a new model of education in Africa and try and find the middle points in her life’s Venn diagram to see how/where/if/when the two marry. I am honored to have had this opportunity to discuss only a few aspects of what makes Sona go…and go she does, as you can tell by her answer to the final question about where she Goes to find a little ‘Sona time”. Do yourself a favor and find a way to start a conversation of your own by listening to her music, supporting her missions and or both, as forward is the way she is heading.