West-African kora player Dawda Jobarteh on his influences and musical journey
Gambia-born musician Dawda Jobarteh was in Hyderabad for the 15th edition of Ruhaniyat, last weekend. He spoke to Indulge about his music. Excerpts:
Give us a background of your journey in music. When did you start performing?
I grew up in a traditional griot family where almost all the men played the kora. I, however, began playing the percussion. I started to go out and play concerts with my uncle at the age of 12. Later, I was a percussion player in my cousins’ bands. I did not begin to play the kora before I moved to Denmark at the age of 22. Now the kora is my main instrument and I only rarely play the percussion.
Was it after moving to Denmark that you pursued music professionally?
After moving to Denmark, I have played with many great musicians and touched upon different genres that I play on the basis of my musical traditional heritage. I can use traffic roads as a metaphor for explaining my journey. A narrow sandy path of jazz inspiration was already there back in Gambia. When I moved to Denmark this path turned into a highway. There were side roads with other genres, but didn’t pay attention to them for a long time. However, little by little I became more interested and began to notice these other roads and then sometimes following them too. This means that my map for navigation is much more detailed today that it was before I moved to Denmark - because I am exposed to more different genres and artists and because I am much more aware than I was back then.
Who are some of your influences that inspire you to make music?
I have been very influenced by YoussouN’dour, Cheick Lo, BaabaMaal (and other Senegalese musicians) and Salif Keita and Les Ambassadeurs, and alsoBembeya Jazz. A particular record of Toumani Diabaté called Djelinka was also very important to me. On a more personal, practical and emotional everyday level, my uncle Malamin Jobarteh and my maternal grandfather Alhaji Bai Konteh have been and are of big inspiration to me. I also listened a lot to the married couple Soundioulou Sissokoh and Mahawa Kuyaté from Senegal who played the kora and sang with a different vibe than the Gambians.
What are the genres you listened to growing up and how did that influence your musical sensibilities?
In the Gambia, I was mainly exposed to different kinds of traditional as well as pop music from Senegal, Mali and Guinea. The Senegalese music was my choice while the Malian and Guinean music was because my mother listened a lot to that. Besides this, the radio also played Western pop music and reggae.
I have strong childhood memories related to several visits by Danish jazz musicians from the New Jungle Orchestra. Some of them stayed in our compound. One time the saxophone player JakobMygind brought his saxophone and I have a very vivid memory of him practising alone in his room. That really caught my attention as something interesting. My uncles Malamin Jobarteh and Dembo Konteh travelled several times to Europe and came back with recordings of them playing traditional kora music together with jazz musicians from the UK and Germany. I remember listening to those records and finding that the jazz musicians added a structure and approach making me perceive the music of my culture in a new way and adding another layer of meaning to it.