Sona Jobarteh and her band take listeners on a musical voyage in their version of "Jarabi."
“Jarabi," meaning “beloved,” is a popular West African song that was written after the country of Mali gained independence from the French in 1960. Rich in metaphors symbolizing the people’s love for their country and culture, the song was meant to instill a sense of “hope and resolve,” according to World Music in Education.
The essential sound of “Jarabi” comes from the kora, a 12-stringed harp dating back to the 18th century. In Mande tradition—meaning that of the Mande speaking peoples of western Africa, which includes the country of Mali—playing the kora professionally was an exclusive sacred right reserved for males in families of tribal storytellers known as griots.
That’s what makes this recently resurfaced viral video from May 2022 so unique.
In it you’ll find Sona Jobarteh, the first ever female virtuoso player of the kora. Born into a griot family, Jobarteh first began learning the instrument from her brother at 3 years old. Her passion grew as she got older. Eventually she decided to make a career out of it, and history along the way.
“I really wanted to study with my father because he is very much an expert in that style of playing,” she shared in an interview with French radio station RFI. She added that her father was very adamant that she earn recognition for her talent, and talent alone.
"He told me that he will teach me as his child, not as his daughter, not as his son but as his child which is no gender. And also he told me that the one thing he wanted in return for teaching me is that I aim to be just a good kora player not a good female kora player."
Jobarteh has certainly fulfilled her father’s wishes. Her skills have reached wide acclaim, gaining the reputation of a top-level performer for not only playing the kora, but for her melodic voice and strong stage presence as well. She’s performed all over the world, been featured in award-winning films and has released two albums.
Coincidentally, Jobarteh is also the cousin of Toumani Diabeté, a world-renowned kora player and the writer of “Jarabi.” Her beautiful rendition of his song below pays homage to history while breaking barriers all at the same time. It also stands as a powerful reminder that music transcends all limits to connect us with our joy.
Watch and be transported away: