Taj Mahal and Sona Jorbateh Photo courtesy of National Arts Centre

Taj Mahal and Sona Jobarteh light up National Arts Centre

by Godwin Ifedi, Editor

Sunday 10 March 2024

An enthusiastic crowd of some 400 people were at the NAC to watch Gambian-born international singer extraordinaire Sona Jobarteh, as she entertained with an eclectic mix of Gambian traditional songs. Backed by a 4-piece ensemble: 2 acoustic guitars, a drummer playing a quartet of bongo drums and a second drummer with a drum set, with Sona herself leading the evening herself with the traditional Gambian” “kora” guitar. Buoyed by the intro via a theatrical bongo drumroll, she set out with a joyous string of songs in her Mandinka language, ranging from an ode to women, to a plea for people to accept their responsibilities, and ending with an inspirational piece where she pleaded for Africans to transition from “political independence” to “personal independence”. She contributes to this process through the Gambian Academy, an educational institution totally funded by her, with free tuition for all the students (Gambia Academy (sonajobarteh.com) Those in the audience who did not understand the Mandinka song lyrics, and that was likely majority of the audience, applauded her introduction of each song and rose to their feet at the end of each piece, in appreciation of the power and range of a singer in her prime. An extra bonus was added when Sona’s son, Sidiki, gave an incredibly thrilling performance on the xylophone, which brought the audience to its feet. What an evening! (Sona Jobarteh duet with her son Sidiki on CNN (youtube.com)

Here is columnist Sarah Onyango’s Facebook reflections on Sona’s performance.

Sona Jobarteh and her band were incredible at the NAC last night!! And Queen Sona not only entertained but also educated and inspired us with her thoughtful reflections on preserving cultural traditions and an artist’s responsibility towards community and society. Next time I hope she comes in the summer for an outdoor concert as the sole headliner. No disrespect to Taj Mahal, but I really would have preferred the whole two hours of just Sona’s exhilarating Kora compositions…

Sona Jobarteh joins Taj Mahal for an unforgettable performance Photo credit: Sarah Onyango

About Sona Jobarteh

Preserving her musical past Sona Jobarteh innovates to support a more humanitarian future. The spirit of Sona Jobarteh’s musical work stands on the mighty shoulders of The West African Griot Tradition; she is a living archive of the Gambian people. With one ear on the family’s historic reputation, one on the all-important future legacy and her heart in both places, she is preparing a place today for the next generation. Her singing and Kora playing while fronting her band, spring directly from this tradition. The extent of her recognition today is evidenced by more than 27 million views on YouTube and considerable numbers on other digital platforms. All this despite singing in her native  languages and keeping to her own path within the music industry. 


Blues legend Taj Mahal was in his element on Sunday night as he produced a showpiece that will be remembered long after his departure. Backed by a 4-piece ensemble: steel drum, steel guitar, bass and drum set, he guided the 400 plus audience on an incredible musical journey, spiced with some of his greatest hits and embellished with some of his more recent products. Backing his songs , he started out with an ukulele, then moved on to a banjo, before effortlessly going back to his roots with an acoustic guitar. His throaty voice added spice to his legendary blues creations, all the while teasing his audience with his scintillating wit and humour, with a dash of French thrown into the mix! The standing ovation he received at the end of the one-and-half hour performance was an unforgettable testimony from those of us who were privileged to be part of this iconic musical legacy.

When, at the tail end of his performance, he was joined by Sona Jobarterh and her quartet, their joint performance was like icing on the cake, which the grateful audience licked with relish. An evening to remember!

Sona Jobarteh and Taj Mahal salute their audience at the end of their show Photo credit: Sarah Onyango

About Taj Mahal

Taj Mahal is a towering musical figure — a legend who transcended the blues not by leaving them behind, but by revealing their magnificent scope to the world. Quantifying the 81- year-old’s significance is impossible, but people try anyway. A 2017 Grammy win for TajMo, Taj’s collaboration with Keb’ Mo’, brought his Grammy tally to three wins and 14 nominations, and underscored his undiminished relevance more than 50 years after his solo debut. Blues Hall of Fame membership, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Americana Music Association, and other honors punctuate his résumé. Taj appreciates the accolades, but his motivation lies elsewhere. “I just want to be able to make the music that I’m hearing come to me — and that’s what I did,” Taj says. “When I say, ‘I did,’ I’m not coming from the ego. The music comes from somewhere. You’re just the conduit it comes through. You’re there to receive the gift.”