Sona Jobarteh, who is renowned as the world’s first female kora virtuoso from a traditional West African griot family, will make her Pacific Northwest debut at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 27, at Open Space for Arts & Community. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. for the show.
The show, said Open Space co-founder David Godsey, will be a must-see island occasion, made possible by a last-minute entreaty from islander Jacob Bain, frontman for the band Publish the Quest, who helped arrange the show last week.
“I usually would say ‘no way’ to something that soon at hand, but this is an incredible opportunity,” Godsey said. “Sona Jobarteh is a huge talent from The Gambia, and it is stunning that she wants to do a Vashon [performance].”
Jobarteh is known for her mastery of the kora, a 21-stringed African harp that is capable of producing rich melodies and vibrant tones. For centuries, the kora and its mastery have been passed down exclusively from father to son in griot families. (The term “griot” refers to West African historians, storytellers, praise singers, poets or musicians.) Jobarteh hails from a griot family of renowned kora musicians, and her mastery of the instrument broke through the male-dominated hereditary tradition and launched her on a path of international recognition.
Jobarteh’s musicianship has garnered her a long list of accolades. In 2010, she was commissioned to compose a film score to the award-winning documentary film “Motherland.” In 2011, she released a critically acclaimed album “Fasiya” (“Heritage”) that features her playing instruments such as the ngoni, flute, guitar, bass and percussion.
She is also an accomplished vocalist. In 2011, Hollywood film composer Alex Heffes invited her to perform as a solo vocalist in the soundtrack for the film “The First Grader.” Jobarteh’s performance won “Discovery of the Year Prize” at the Hollywood World Soundtrack Awards in 2012, and she also later performed it live in Belgium, backed by an 80-piece orchestra. Her vocal solos are also featured in the soundtrack for “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” and in the 2016 miniseries “Roots,” based on the novel by Alex Haley.
Jobarteh has performed at major festivals in Brazil, India, South Korea, Ghana, Mexico, Tanzania, Côte d’Ivoire, Lithuania, Poland, Germany and Malaysia. She has also lectured at universities in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. Promoting the arts in The Gambia is also one of her top priorities — in 2014, she began The Gambia Academy of Music and Culture, the first cultural academy in The Gambia.
Advance tickets to the show, $20, can be purchased at openspacevashon.com. Tickets at the door cost $25. All those 18 and younger will be admitted free.