He has gained international fame as a musician, but Sona Jobarteh has a big mission – to use culture to empower Africans to improve their countries.
Jobreth is performing with Kora – a 21-string African harp – on the world stage when she was five years old, becoming the first professional female Kora player in the West African country of Gambia. You can hear her vocals on the soundtrack to the film “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom”.
Gambia’s first female professional Kora player is hoping to educate the next generation
To give Gambians a sense of pride in their culture, Jobarteh is now building a huge campus for academic and cultural studies – with a concert hall, amphitheater and recording studio.
History of academy
Jobarte founded The Gambia Academy in 2015, which taught school-age children a mainstream curriculum with African history, culture and traditional music.
His idea was to create a course of study that exposed the country’s culture in such a way that it could be replicated and applied throughout the country.
The academy began with 21 students – “a symbol of Cora’s 21-stings,” said Zobaterah – in a luxurious facility in Farato, a rural town in western Gambia.
On June 2016, Sona was playing the role of Jorteh Corra during a World Music Institute concert at Symphony Space, New York. Credit: Jack Vertogian / Getty Images / Archive Photos / Getty Images
More than half of the children were orphans from rural communities with little or no access to education. The intake has since expanded to 40 students, whose fees are paid by Jobart.
But with a growing waiting list of new applicants, the academy is expanding to a purpose-built venue in Kartong, southwest Gambia, with a capacity for 500 students, ranging in age from eight to 18 years.
The academy also plans to invite international students and musicians to further the children’s educational experience.
“Center of Cultural Knowledge”
In an interview British project manager Ron Mitchell said that building in a remote location in rural Gambia poses a lot of challenges: “heat, humidity and heavy downpour” with termite infections and snakes.
But for Michelle, this project is difficult. “For the first time there will be learning space in a bright, natural setting that blends African tradition, art and culture with education, which allows underprivileged youth to learn alongside adults around the world,” he said.
The design intends to use a variety of permanent, locally sourced materials, including wood, natural straw and compressed earth blocks. The site will also be self-sufficient using solar energy for water and electricity.
The most eye-catching elements are the “five specialist cultural facilities” – including a multimedia department, concert hall and archive library – which Jobarteh hopes will become a “center for cultural knowledge”.
The project has received $ 45,000 from UNICEF, enough to begin construction on the junior department’s main building in November. Meanwhile, fundraising is underway for the remainder of the estimated $ 3 million total cost intended to complete construction by the end of 2021.