A kora player with all the makings of an international star by Robin Denselow
4 / 5 stars
Jobarteh is Africa’s first female griot kora virtuoso, and also a fine singer and composer, blending traditional music, blues and Afropop to impressive effect
This concert starts with a slinky riff from guitarist Derek Johnson, backed by bass, drums and percussion. Then on comes Sona Jobarteh carrying a kora, the west African harp that is traditionally played by male griots, or hereditary musicians, and never by women. This is the woman who decided to change the rules. She bravely starts with Jarabi, a classic griot piece popularised by the world’s finest kora player, Toumani Diabaté, who is her second cousin. She stands as she plays, and after demonstrating her elegant and intricate kora work, she proves that she is also a fine singer, with a cool, laid-back style.
Jobarteh is unique. Her father is from a distinguished griot family but her mother is English, and she studied music and composition in London before returning to Africa to become the first female griot kora virtuoso. Inevitably, she has an eclectic style. Kaira, another griot favourite, starts as a kora solo but develops into a funky and improvised workout, with Sona now trading musical phrases with the inspired percussionist Mamadou Sarr, best-known for his work with Baaba Maal. On Gambia, a tribute to her homeland, she eases towards Afropop, while on the bluesy Gainaako she switches to guitar.
She has all the makings of an international star, but needs to tighten the set and talk a little less – although she has a fine sense of humour. And a new album would help – the last one was released five years ago.
Sona Jobarteh, the first virtuoso female kora player, performs at the EFG London Jazz Festival for the first time this November, playing music from her debut album, Fasiya and her upcoming second release which is due this summer.
Sona was born into one of the five principal West African Griot families and has performed alongside Oumou Sangaré, Toumani Diabaté, Kasse Mady Diabaté and the BBC Symphony Orchestra. She has an effortless ability to blend different musical styles, not just between the West and Africa, but also between West African musical genres. She uses her innovative stance to talk about issues to do with cultural identity, gender, love and respect whilst still referencing and rooting herself firmly in her traditional cultural heritage.
As she demonstrated with her great band last summer at WOMAD, she puts on an amazing show with high energy grooves and rhythms. Not to be missed!
You can buy tickets here.
Sona Jobarteh and her crack band will play the Yellow Arches in Sheffield on Monday, November 14.
“Sona has an effortless ability to blend different musical styles, not just between the West and Africa, but also between West African musical genres. She uses her innovative stance to talk about issues to do with cultural identity, gender, love and respect whilst still referencing and rooting herself firmly in her traditional cultural heritage. Sona represents her tradition in a way that is easily accessible to her audiences from around the world, who are drawn in by her captivating voice, strong rhythms and catchy melodies.”
Watch and listen to her play the kora, a 21-string harp from West Africa; her grooving band complete an amazing line-up.
You can buy tickets here.
Mor Karbasi will be taking to the road soon with her fabulous brand new album, Ojos de Novia. With dates through Germany, Holland, Switzerland, Paris and Italy, audiences will get to hear Mor’s wonderful latest offering, along with her stellar band, featuring Kai Eckhardt (bass), Jorge Bravo (guitar) and Amir Wahba (percussion). She is the “dramatic Diva with a haunting voice and stunning stage presence” and a must-see!
On this new album, there is a sense of a legacy being treated with great respect and affection, as Tigran Hamasyan’s piano immerses itself inventively around the pieces sung by the atmospheric voices of the Yerevan State Chamber Choir. This interesting and often absorbing experiment was recorded in Yerevan in 2014, and produced by ECM founder Manfred Eicher. “It has been a challenge to explore the mystery of Armenian sacred music and to create polyphonic arrangements for melodies by tradition melodic,‘’ writes Hamasyan in the liner notes.
The title translates as ‘Light from Light’ and the matter in hand is Armenian sacred music, including hymns, chants, sharakans – Armenia’s liturgical songs – and Cantos from the 5th century to the 20th, arranged for piano and voices by Tigran Hamasya who works his piano around the inherited traditions. The composer sat down and composed at least one melody prior to the recording, but in the main the pieces were in fact wholly improvised, presumably on various takes.
In March of this year, Hamasyan and the Yerevan State Chamber Choir began an extensive tour of churches in Armenia, Georgia, Turkey, Lebanon, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Britain, Germany, Luxembourg, Russia, the USA and this country. On Saturday October 17, you can catch the revered pianist and the equally celebrated choir at Christchurch in Dublin.
Moody, tremulous, limpid, occasionally forceful and rising to crescendo, the combined elements should provide an engrossing evening. But there will always be the disc and its mystical allure.
Those who remember Tigran Hamasyan’s bone-shaking, synth-squealing, pop-jazz gigs might have done a double-take as the young Armenian pianist gravely filed on to the Union Chapel’s stage accompanied only by a bowed, hooded, orange-robed choir. Some might wonder whether 2014’s swansong of ECM Records’s globally popular choral/jazz pairing of the Hilliard vocal ensemble with Jan Garbarek had anything to do with the young virtuoso’s arrival on the same label with a solemn programme of medieval and modern Armenian vocal music, embroidered only by his jazz-steeped piano playing. But Hamasyan is devoted to his homeland’s traditions, and this year’s 100th anniversary of the Armenian genocides by the Ottoman authorities gives this venture a timely poignancy.
He embraced the challenge in this performance with a typical combination of diligent study and brilliant aplomb with eight singers from the Yerevan State Choir.
The single-set gig began with a hymn by 4th-century scholar/composer Mesrop Mashtots, in which a low vocal hum was shaded by briefly flicked treble-note elisions from Hamasyan. A second Mashtots piece brought spooky microtonal vocal drifts punctuated by plucked low-note strings.
The choir began a rhythmic, short-note pulse on the animated Ov Zarmanali, and whispered behind the leader’s now groove-like chord work. Hamasyan’s streaming ingenuity erupted in an outburst of sleek arpeggios and left-hand hooks that brought a roar from the crowd, but the shift never felt like a dislocation as the choir slithered back in around him. Hamasyan jangled a drone-like chord pattern as the lean, vibrato-free voices of his partners punched out exclamatory percussive motifs. A walking bassline underpinned the sound of the male members at their most guttural (while Hamasyan’s improv almost veered into My Favourite Things), and a stamping vocal dance preceded the solemn, carol-like rumination of the encore.
If last year’s departure of the Hilliard/Garbarek ensemble left a gap in contemporary music, this sounds like the dramatically distinctive replacement.
By JOHN FORDHAM October 16 2015