Sona Jobarteh: Badinyaa Kumoo

February 24, 2023

A Most Lyrical Syllabus

Listening Post 367. Maya Angelou observed that some people can’t recognize opportunity right before their eyes, “while others can sense a good thing coming when it is days, months or miles away.” No wonder that, in the liner notes of her second album, the Gambian musician-singer-songwriter Sona Jobarteh—herself accustomed to overcoming obstacles to reach good outcomes—cites the American poet as a role model. After a grounding in classical music (cello, piano, harpsichord, composition) Jobarteh followed and adapted her family tradition by becoming the first female kora virtuoso, mastering the 21-string instrument that is the hallmark of West African griots, the hereditary historian-poet-genealogist musicians. She also developed a critique of what she identifies as the colonial mindset that undermines African education systems, and in 2015 founded the Gambia Academy, which teaches math, arts and science alongside African history, tradition and values—a model she hopes to replicate across the continent. Crossing frontiers in both music and education pulls Jobarteh in divergent directions and with Badinyaa Kumoo she attempts to reconcile the competing pressures of her split-screen life. Her song themes are like a lyrical syllabus and the music is sublime, with her graceful voice in Mandinka and her agile digits on the kora. She honors civilization’s driving force in Musolou (Women, video 1) and urges artists to think about the messages their work conveys in Dunoo (Responsibility, video 2). She stresses diversity and community in Ubuntu (Humanity, video 3) and learning itself in Fondinkeeya (Youth). Written for the 50th anniversary of her nation’s independence, Gambia (video 5) has become an unofficial national anthem. Album guest artists include Malian kora master Ballaké Sissoko and Senegalese icon Youssou N’Dour, who has balanced music with humanitarian work, business and politics. Like her heroes, Jobarteh demonstrates that those who can sense impending opportunity are often those who create great things with their voice, hands and imagination. (African Guild Records)

Sona Jobarteh: Badinyaa Kumoo
Sona Jobarteh: Vocals, kora, cello, guitars, calabash, djimbe, bass, percussion, drum programming
Youssou N’Dour: Vocals
Ballaké Sissoko: Kora
Musa Filly Jobarteh: Vocals, djimbe, kutirindingo, kutiriba, sabar, seruba
Ravid Kahalani: Vocals
Zihirina Abdoulahi Maiga: Vocals
Eric Appapoulay: Guitars, backing vocals, choir vocals
Marcina Arnold: Backing vocals
Ehya Assaleh: Ngoni
Shanir Blumenkranz: Acoustic upright bass
Hakim: Programming
Melissa Hei: Djimbe
Robin Hopcraft: Trumpet
Mariama Jarju: Backing vocals
Luyanda Jezile: Backing vocals
Sidiki Jobarte-Codjoe: Choir vocals
Westley Joseph: Drum kit, toms
Saihou Kanuteh: Backing vocals
Usman Kanuteh: Guitar
Lansiné Kouyaté: Balafon
Abdoulaye Lo: Drum kit
Risenga Makondo: Backing vocals
Thio Mbaye: Sabar
Mphoh Mckenzie: Backing vocals
Christian Obam: Bass
Miroca Paris: Congas, brushes, persucssion
Idris Rahman: Saxophone
Saleem Raman: Drum kit
Mamadou Sarr: Djimbe, seruba
Femi Temowo: Drum programming
Yatma Thiam: Marimba
Jock Webb: Harmonica
Kirk Whalum: Saxophone
Bruce White: Violin
Roger White: Backing vocals
Gambia Academy Students (Rohey Badjie, Hulaynatou Jallow, Mariama Saho): Chorus vocals


Musolou / Women
Lyrics & music: Sona Jobarteh

From the album notes: This song pays homage to the fact that all of humanity is born from a woman, and nothing compares to the love of a mother, who will fight and sacrifice against all odds to protect the next generation. I give thanks to our treasured women all around the world for all their sacrifices and hard work. However, I ask how societies give back to women in return for their hard work and sacrifices. Women are controlled, silenced, oppressed, beaten and mutilated… I ask what type of people harm the very people that bring us into the world and raise us? I ask the people of this world to stand by women, to fight for them and their dignity. I call on men to fight for change, and to educate young boys who will be our future generation of men. I call on women to ensure their support for one another generously in success and to cast out jealousy. We must educate women fully to be able to harness all our citizens to be active participants in the development of our nations. I pay homage to just a few iconic female role models of African descent, past and present, who have fought for social change: Maya Angelou, Queen Nanny of the Maroons, Yaa Asantewaa, Queen Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba, Angela Davis, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Harriet Tubman, Mbuya Nehanda, Giséle Rabesahala, Miriam Makeba, Rose Chibambo, Margaret Ekpo, Sojourner Truth, Andrea Lua, Women Warriors of Dahomey. Women of the world, I thank you.


Dunoo / Responsibility, feat. Musa Filly Jobarteh
Lyrics & music: Sona Jobarteh

From the album notes: This song addresses artists and musicians around the world, urging them to think carefully about the content of their art, the messages they spread, and to carry a sense of responsibility for what they promote. I ask artists to recognize that they are powerful humans in society, who inspire and consequently lead many, especially the youth, to follow in their footsteps. I therefore ask artists lo treat their position in society with responsibility and humility, and instead of spreading messages degrading women, worshipping wealth, celebrating greed, and revering violence, be active role models for the next generation in inspiring positive change, productive goals, respect for one another and promote development.


Ubuntu / Humanity
Mandinka lyrics: Sona Jobarteh/Zulu lyrics: Eugene Skeef /Music: Sona Jobarteh, Eric Appapoulay

From the album notes: The term “ubuntu” (“mooya” in Mandinka) refers to a shared African concept that encompasses defining aspects of humility such as compassion, unity and community. In this song I call into question the fact that compassion, empathy and humanity toward others is distorted by international media and the dominant global narrative through a process of dehumanization. Many are desensitized to the lives of others by repeatedly being exposed to images of people stereotyped as those who suffer from war; those who suffer from poverty; those who are branded as “terrorists.” I assert that the onlookers carry a responsibility of compassion and humanity toward all people. because we are one.

I use the Zulu language in this song to pay homage to the Zulu warriors who were among our African heroes who fought to defend their land against invasion from Europeans.

An important aspect of humanity is the ability to work together to protect your land, your people and to stand up for human rights. However, this aspect of humanity has been consistently distorted in relation to Africans. This homage to Zulus highlights the problem of the subconscious and internalized narrative that historically labels all Africans who fought for their land, freedom and human rights as “violent, threatening, barbaric, primitive terrorists.” We therefore need to reassess who we as Africans consider to be heroes, and who are in fact terrorists: We need to think carefully how both the historical and current narratives need to bd rewritten from the perspective of the African, to memorialize our pioneers, role models and freedom fighters in the rightful way.

Singing in Zulu, which is foreign to me, was important to make a statement on the need for us to be proud of the rich diversity of languages we have within the continent. Instead of defaulting to colonial foreign languages without any question, let us learn to explore and celebrate our own.


Fondinkeeya / Youth
Lyrics & music: Sona Jobarteh

From the album notes: This song addresses the need for curriculum reform across Africa to fully break free from the education systems implemented during the colonial era. Education has been an essential tool for indoctrinating the minds of Africans to pave the way for colonization, and to maintain the exploitation of the continent and its people, which continues to feed international financial growth. Our education system still influences Africans from a young age to revere anything that does not look, sound or behave like them, thus nurturing a deep sense of inferiority and cultural rejection. Education is a vital foundation block in changing mentality, and it is my conviction that by rewriting our education system we strengthen the bigger mission of sustainable development, building a powerful road towards self-determination, self-governance and economic self-sustainability of our African nations. I call for an education system that places the history, culture and identity of the African child at the centre of their everyday academic education. This song is written in an unfamiliar time-signature for this tradition (in the count of seven), symbolizing reformation, the call for change, and the hope for the future which lies in investing in our young as leaders, role models and changemakers of tomorrow.


Lyrics & music: Sona Jobarteh

From the album notes: This song was written to mark the 50th year of independence of the Gambia [in 2015]. It is a song which celebrates the nation and its people—both inside the country and those in the diaspora—calling on them never to forget their homeland. Gambia is renowned for its peaceful nature and the people are reputed for their warm and open hearts. This song is an homage to the country that has given me so much throughout my life, and is also my pledge of commitment of giving back to the country through my work in education and through the music I create that will always carry the name of the Gambia throughout the world.

(From the Mandinka lyrics)
Built in peace and stability, hosted by development and progress
Humanity and happiness is on all faces, our outstanding country Gambia.

Wherever you are, never forget
Your homeland Gambia
For if you forget your roots, you turn your back on who you are.

We are proud…
We are proud of our country

We are proud…
Let us come together and unite

We are proud…
This is what will result in progress

People of the Gambia; this is the beautiful land
People of the Gambia; this is the peaceful land
People of the Gambia; this is the land of our people
People of the Gambia; there is nothing that compares to this land
People honour this country because it is blessed

We should not abandon our beautiful country
Sons and daughters of this land, let us come to together
I will truly always be proud to be a Gambian
Wherever I travel, I shall tell of the wonders of this country
There is nowhere that compares to Gambia

The home of Peace… everyone say “Gambia”
The home of Blessings… everyone say “Gambia”
The home of Humility… everyone say “Gambia”
The home of Family… everyone say “Gambia”



  1. Jonathan Gangman

    Sona Jobarteh is the perfect and complete musician.
    Watching her on stage playing the forbidden instrument for women, the Kora, one is bound to forgive her for breaking the taboo.
    She plays the instrument with such ease and grace sending sweet sensations down one’s spine. She fulfills the dreams of Africans married to white ladies and men, that their children would acknowledge the fact of beeing black and African. One is simply proud of her. She is adorable. Thanks Sona . Thanks Alan for feuturing her.

  2. Raymond Veroneau

    I am new to this beautiful music expressing the values of humility, compassion, unity, respect, peace, love, and being proud of who we are. My introduction to Sona Jobarteh was on 60 Minutes. I’ll see her play in Somerville, MA, USA this month…yeah!! Namaste…


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