Sona Jobarteh was born in London into one of the most storied families in the history of West African kora music. If not for her gender there was little doubt that she would carry on the legacy. In fact, she and her family broke with convention to encourage her practice, and she has emerged as the first great female kora player. But like her brother and fellow kora master Tunde Jegede she refuses to be boxed in by that tradition. She studied cello, harpsichord, and piano at the Royal College of Music, and subsequently pursued composition at the Purcell School of Music.
She not only moves easily between kora music and classical music, she has also performed with British jazz singer Cleveland Watkiss. Still, her main focus has remained on Mande tradition, playing a concert with her cousin Toumani Diabaté, Oumou Sangaré, Kase Maddy Diabaté, and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, working in her brother’s group the African Classical Music Ensemble, and most recently recording with Ballake Sissoko. In 2015 she founded the Gambia Academy, which teaches African culture right alongside language and history.
While she’s made several albums of traditional music, she’s also been involved in composing film music, beginning with her score for the 2009 documentary film Motherland. More recently she worked on the soundtrack of the Idris Elba film Beast. As she recently told The Guardian, “I had a chance to be in contemporary music like R&B and hip-hop, and some people find it surprising that I wanted to do traditional music and imply that I’m going backwards. I see what I am doing as going forwards.”