26/03/2019Master Kora Player Dawda Jobarteh Releases Album #3 & Sheds A Light On Senegambia's "Begging Boys"

Hailing from The Gambia and now residing in Denmark, kora player Dawda Jobarteh is the heir to a long line of Gambian musical royalty. His grandfather was Alhaji Bai Konte, one of the country's most famed kora players. His father was Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, an equally respected kora player and the favoured musician of Gambia's first president. (He also happened to be the uncle of Sidiki Diabaté, father to Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté.) And the list goes on, as Dawda is also the nephew of the late Malamini Jobarteh who, together with Dembo Konte, formed the first kora duo to tour outside of Africa and whose album "Jaliya" released on Sterns Music back in 1985. But enough of the family accolades.

Sterns Music recently released Dawda's third solo album "I Met Her By The River",  which yet again yields a brilliant display of his melodic mastery: "Although his technique is prodigious, it's always subservient to the song. Although there are beautiful moments of contemplation, they are never saccharine or facile," reads the description. And indeed, Dawda's kora takes center stage as he is backed by fellow musicians and friends Preben Carlsen (bass), Salieu Dibba (percussion), Stefan Pasborg (drums) and Jacob Andersen (percussion). His choice of repertoire, meanwhile, reflects both his newfound home as well as his rich musical heritage:

"Jeg Gik Mig Ud En Sommerdag" (I went out on a summer's day), for instance, "is a Scandinavian melody that dates back to at least the 17th century", while "Afro Blue" and "Hello" are wonderfully arranged nods to Mongo Santamaria and Adele respectively. The most noteworthy track in terms of its message, however, would have to be Dawda's social commentary on "Begging Boys", a track that brings to attention the saddening and precarious condition of the so-called talibés. This is not a new phenomenon and extremely worrying to say the least, but it is true that in some countries in the West African region, parents are so poor, they are forced to give away their most precious 'possession': their child. 

"In Senegambia some parents send their boys to a certain kind of Quran school where they live and where part of their daily activities is to beg on the streets for food and money. In some places, you find these boys sleeping in the streets at night – hungry, dirty and wearing clothes full of holes. This song is for these boys, generally called talibé. I spent 10 days with talibés in 2018. They agreed to be filmed by me in their daily activities. During those 10 days I also spoke to adults who supported my attempt to shed light on the conditions of the talibés through this song and music video," Dawda recounts.

His hauntingly beautiful lament hits close to home as does the rest of the album, which we currently have on repeat. Frank Odenthal recently sat down with Dawda Jobarteh for the independent news outlet to find out more. Read the full story here. As for the album, you can stream/buy it via Bandcamp. And make sure to watch the video to “Begging Boys”, featuring the vocals of Souleymane Faye, below.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom