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Sona Jobarteh -

Sona Jobarteh -


The Festival of African and Caribbean Art is now in its fourth year in Hastings. It overlaps with the higher-profile Coastal Currents festival, which is devoted to the visual arts, so tends to get overlooked, writes Antony Mair.

I have mixed feelings about anything that combines the words “African” and “Caribbean”.  “African” on its own is broad brush enough – what really links the Berbers in Morocco with the Kikuyu in Kenya? but linked with the Caribbean as well?  surely in the latter case only a distant past – yet we continue to lump them together.  It’s rather as if a group of people in Nigeria set up an Anglo-Australian festival. But that’s a side-issue.  We should probably be grateful for anything we can get that tells us more about the peoples and cultures of African states, and last night’s opening event at Hastings Museum certainly did that.

Akila Richards

Poetry was contributed by Akila Richards, picture right, originally from Liberia but now living in Brighton.  A performance poet, she recited her pieces with studied and beautiful gestures that were close to dance.  The words were almost shaped by her hands.  A beautiful poem called “Dancing with Grandmothers” went the whole way, with Akila dancing to a recording of her voice against a musical backing.

Good though Akila was, the real star of the evening was Sona Jobarteh, described on the Afrikàba leaflet as a “Kora virtuosa”.  In case that has you puzzled: the kora is a twenty-one stringed West African harp that dates back to the thirteenth century, when Mali was one of three West African empires that controlled trans-Saharan trade.  Sona Jobarteh comes from a Mali family of griots – storytellers and musicians, who act as a repository of oral tradition and advise royal personages.

She explained that only five families traditionally have the right to play the kora, and she is the first woman to do so. Accompanied by a drummer and three guitarists, she played several numbers to rapt attention.  One of them was in honour of a nomadic tribe that roams across the northern territory of a number of West African states – a noble and hospitable people, she said.  Looking round at the scattered audience of Guardian-readers in Hastings Museum, I could hardly think of a culture more alien.  But by this stage we were all on our feet at Sona’s behest, for her showstopping final number that had us all dancing and clapping with enthusiasm.

Republished with kind permission from Postcards from Hastings

Posted 14:58 Sunday, Sep 29, 2013 In: Performance

1 Comment

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  1. Momodou

    People offering strong opinions from tea spoons of understanding. They have interrogated their conclusions within the tiny little boxes of what they understand. Does Africa and the Caribbean “only” have a distant memory of each other? But this kind of statement tells you more of a cultural/historical/political ignorance than anything else.

    Comment by Momodou — Monday, Sep 30, 2013 @ 21:54

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