Music Notes|

Photo: Sona Jobarteh (screen grab from CBS) | By Leslie Stahl, CBS 60 Minutes | … we want to introduce you to a musician named Sona Jobarteh, who introduced us to the beautiful sound and story of a centuries-old instrument called the kora. It’s a string instrument from West Africa, part of a musical tradition that dates back to a 13th century empire and has been passed down strictly from father to son, man to man, in a special set of families ever since. Sona Jobarteh was born into one of those families, called griots. The daughter of a Gambian father and a British mother. After hundreds of years of men, she is the first woman to master the kora. In her performances around the world, and in her work off-stage, she says she is keeping tradition alive through the very act of breaking it.

Take a listen, as we did, to Sona Jobarteh as she plays the kora. With its 21 strings, played by just four fingers, two on each hand, it has a sound both foreign and familiar.

Lesley Stahl: To me, it’s like a harp. What do you compare it to?

Sona Jobarteh: I don’t actually compare it to anything because it’s normal for me, right? I compare other things to the kora.

The song Sona played for us, called “Jarabi,” is a traditional love song sung in the Mandinka language. The tradition goes back to the 1200s, when a kingdom called the Mali Empire reigned over a large swath of West Africa, the territory of several modern-day countries. The musicians and storytellers in the empire were men called griots, who counseled kings, resolved conflicts and passed the legends down orally through the centuries. Women in griot families were singers, but it was only men who were allowed to play the instruments.

That is, until Sona Jobarteh. At 39, she has become one of the foremost kora players in the world, performing with her band across Europe, West Africa, and here in the United States, as we saw in one packed theater outside Boston.
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Produced by Shari Finkelstein. Associate producers, Collette Richards and Braden Cleveland Bergan. Broadcast Associate, Wren Woodson. Edited by Daniel J. Glucksman.
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Watch the video report here. It is very interesting and informative!

One of America’s most recognized and experienced broadcast journalists, Lesley Stahl has been a 60 Minutes correspondent since 1991.

Photo: Sona Jobarteh (screen grab from the CBS article)

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