From Kora to Curriculum

Sona Jobarteh Wearing A Blue Top With Her Hair In Braids Holding The Kora


Sona Jobarteh shares her non-musical mission. 

By PJ Feinstein 

Meet Sona Jobarteh, an internationally acclaimed musician breaking barriers and making history. Hailing from a long line of griots in the Gambia, she’s the first woman in her family’s seven-century tradition to master the kora, a complex, harp-like African instrument with 21 strings. But Jobarteh is more than just a musical virtuoso. A social activist and educator, she founded The Gambia Academy in 2015 to pioneer educational reform in Africa. 

Last April, Jobarteh delivered the keynote address at the inauguration of Erica Muhl as president of Berklee College of Music and received her honorary doctorate in music. “While music is my passion in life,” she said, “my commitment to a new education model for Africa is my life’s mission and purpose.” 

Learn about Jobarteh’s work in the field of education from these excerpts of her speech. 


The core mission of this academy is to pioneer a new education model. A model that is liberated from the legacy of the education systems that were implemented during the colonial [era] in Africa. And it enables us to bring culture, languages, history, and the traditions of African people to the very center and core of the academic education. 


Music carries the very essence of the cultural identity of the people. Historically across Africa, music has been an integral part of the very fabric of the daily existence of people. It cannot be separated from the functioning of society as an isolated practice. In many societies, even the word “music” as an isolated concept or term does not even exist. Music is, in fact, woven into the very fabric of society in a very inseparable manner. Therefore, within our education model, music is similarly woven into the very everyday learning experience of our students. This not only draws on central African cultural values, but also serves as a very powerful vector for the identity, the cultural pride, and self-confidence of our students. 


My ambition is not to create a unique institution, but rather to set a new bar to bring into question the accountability of the education systems in Africa. I’mdeveloping a blueprint curriculum model that is scalable, that can be implemented into other schools both inside the Gambia and across the continent at large. 

Released in 2022, Sona Jobarteh’s second album, Badinyaa Kumoo, explores contemporary issues with an emphasis on unity. She performs at the Music Center at Strathmore on Sunday, April 7 at 7pm. Learn more.