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The revolutionary Gambian Traditional Music School concludes its Kora History programme

A review of the first year of the Amadu Bansang Jobateh School of Music, the first school dedicated to the study of Manding Music in Gambia.

The Amadu Bansang Jobarteh School of Manding Music, last week concluded its specialist traditional Music programme “Kaabu Empire and birth of the Kora”, which as he name suggests was a programme designed to enlighten its students on the subject of one of Africa’s oldest musical instruments and the History of the Instrument and the people behind it. Successful students were awarded certificates of participation, after an intense and hugely rewarding programme.

A bit of background on this instrument being this, the Kora is a complex multi-string Harp, with a provable 800 year-old history and was first recorded as played in the court of the Emperors of the Mali Empire in the 13th century. It has over the years been an essential part of the “Griot” culture of the Sahelian regions of West Africa, in which singers and performers played an active part in transmitting oral history and traditions from generation to generation. The Kora however is only one of several instruments in this complex musical infrastructure of the Manding people (one of several nations of the Sahelian region covered by the ancient Mali Empire, which at a time stretchied from Mauritania, Mali, Senegal, Gambia, all across to Burkina Faso). Other instruments include Percussion Instruments and the Balafon (similar to the western Xylophone). Manding music has had several great Masters of the various Instruments, sourced from some of the five great Griot families which included Kouyate, Jobarteh, Koita etc. One of the most enigmatic and one might say, one of the last of the traditional Griots, was the Gambian Master Amadou Bansang Jobarteh (or Diabate).

Jobarteh was part of a line of Griot’s going back several centuries and by the time of his death in 2001, was regarded as one of the greatest Kora Masters in History. Hence the school, which was founded in January 2014, was named after Jobarteh, one of the Gambia’s greatest ever musical ambassadors. Its aim, according to its owners being,”to promote and cultivate knowledge and expertise in traditional music amongst youngsters in the Gambia”. Staffed by a committed and knowledgeable group of seasoned Musicians and Teachers, it offers training in  Kora, Balafon, Singing, Dance, and Drumming. The school also provides support for children in mainstream education.

One of the brains behind the school being Sona Jobarteh, Grand-daughter of Amadu Bansang Jobarteh. She is well-known as one of the first female Kora virtuoso’s, who started performing at the feet of her legendary Grand-father, before the age of eight. Sona, amongst others, is at the crucible of promoting the School, the very first of such in Gambia. As the school approaches its first anniversary in a few weeks time, Music in Africa extends its congratulations to the School as it approaches its first aniversary.