The kora is one of West Africa’s – and Mali’s especially – finest cultural exports. The instrument is at the heart of the region’s tradition of hereditary court musicians or praise singers, known as griots, whose knowledge has been passed down through dozens of generations by word of mouth. The history of the griots, or jelis as they are sometimes called, stretches back to Mali’s Mande Empire of the thirteenth century, when the tradition of attaching musicians and story tellers to the courts of local rulers was established.
The young British-Gambian kora player and singer Sona Jobarteh belongs to the griot tradition by birth. Her grandfather was a master griot while Toumani Diabaté, also a kora player and one of world music’s biggest stars, is a cousin. But as a woman, Jobarteh would not traditionally have been able to be an instrumentalist.
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