You have to be devilishly difficult not to fall for the music of the Gambian Sona Jobarteh. Considered the first woman to play the kora professionally, she brings a touch of modernity to her Mandinka roots. She will present her exciting songs during a free outdoor concert as part of the Festival international Nuits d’Afrique.

What makes the beauty of many of the festivals that enliven the Quartier des Spectacles throughout the summer is the possibility of discovering exceptional talent without even having to put your hand in your pocket. Let’s not beat around the bush, with that of Yemi Alade (July 19), his outdoor concert scheduled for July 20 on the Place des Festivals promises to be a highlight of this edition of the International Festival Nuits d’Afrique. .

Sona Jobarteh has indeed offered, according to the author of these lines, one of the most beautiful albums of 2022. Badinyaa Kumoo, published more than a decade after its predecessor (Fasiya, 2011), is carried by a groove à la both gentle and lively, elegant choirs, talkative percussion, nods to desert blues and borrowings from jazz. All this without really moving away from the Mandinka tradition from which it comes.

The English-born singer and songwriter spent her childhood between Europe and Gambia, the country of her father. It was only as a teenager that she settled in London, the time to attend secondary school and later pursue a classical education at the Royal College of Music where she studied cello, piano and the harpsichord.

It was only by taking the decision to devote herself to mastering the kora, a traditional instrument of West African griots whose teaching generally passes from father to son, that she found a start of response. “I felt I could write more music in that vein and started to trust that I didn’t have to adopt another style to be recognized in Europe,” she sums up.

His intuition was right: Sona Jobarteh is not yet 40 years old and her fame is international. She also received two important distinctions in the spring: an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music and the Songlines prize awarded to the best album from Africa or the Middle East (ahead of Les roots de Vieux Farka Touré, among others).

“Writing music, for me, is not about technique,” ​​she says. I don’t think in terms of notes, intervals, harmonies or rhythm. My music is an authentic expression of a feeling that I wish to communicate. In the same way that I do not think about the words I am using at the moment, but rather about what I want to convey, I make music by first thinking about the message I want to convey through the sounds. »

Music is not an end in itself for Sona Jobarteh, it is a way of talking about what is close to her heart, that is to say education. She founded the Gambian Academy, an institution located in Banjul, capital of The Gambia, whose mission is to invent a new model of education for Africa that would be freed from that imposed by the colonizers. She devotes a great deal of her energy to this project, which she describes as “a mountain”, but which she believes is essential for training innovative minds that will move the entire continent forward.

We can easily guess that music is one of his favorite tools to reconnect the younger generations to their roots. The borders of The Gambia, like those of other African countries, being the result of lines drawn artificially by Europeans, Sona Jobarteh first claims Mandinka culture, present in a good part of West Africa.

Her trajectory as a celebrated female kora player demonstrates that it is possible.

“The kora was once a new, modern instrument. The repertoire is however much older than the kora itself, she underlines. What I mean is that traditions are constantly evolving and they must evolve to survive, otherwise they will be lost. »

Ska, dancehall, zouk and hip-hop slip into the calypso universe of Kobo Town, a Canadian-Trinidadian group. In other words, it’s not the kind of music that is listened to while sitting down and tapping your feet, but standing up, hands in the air, sometimes rolling your hips!

The musical universe of Diogo Ramos mixes a bit of electro and hip-hop with samba funk. The result is frankly exciting, dancing and musically nourishing. After this free concert, Diogo Ramos will also be part of the Brazilian party featuring Paulo Ramos on Thursday at the Fairmount Theater.

Player of mbira – “thumb piano” present in several African traditions -, Chipo Nyambiya walks a little in the footsteps of her compatriot Stella Chiweshe. His approach, however, is more pop. His songs are marked by powerful vocal flights and joyful choirs.