Kora virtuoso Sona Jobarteh bucks West Africa gender trend

The kora – a stringed instrument that combines the features of a lute and a harp – is traditionally reserved for men in West Africa, but that hasn't stopped British-Gambian artist Sona Jobarteh from carving out her own place alongside its greatest players.

Born in London in 1983, Jobarteh first played the kora at age four. While the instrument is usually learned by practicing in public alongside a master, Jobarteh had other ideas.

"This was something I did very much alone. I studied alone. Studying with my dad, working really hard, was the only time I was supported by someone else sitting beside me," she told RFI.

Culturally, the kora is performed and practiced in a social setting with other people.

"But that's not something I felt comfortable doing as a woman. I kept it to myself until I felt I was good enough to go out in public and to be in front of an audience," Jobarteh says.

It was at an event in 2012 when Jobarteh realised she could play the kora well, and that it was an instrument she was "taking seriously".

Since then, Jobarteh has been pursuing her international career and singing in the Mandenkan language.

"The reason I sing in this language is because it's very important for me to promote our languages, African languages," she explains.

"I wanted to demonstrate that you don't have to adopt somebody else's language to be successful on the international stage."

To safeguard local languages and culture for future generations, Jobarteh also created an academy in The Gambia for students aged eight to 18.


Read more on RFI English

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