Although to meet him it might not be obvious, Dawda Jobarteh takes his griot heritage very seriously, and as the grandson of Alhaji Bai Konte and son of Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, he is at the epicentre of Gambia’s musical aristocracy. Bai Konte was responsible for some of the classic kora repertoire still played today, and one of the first players to tour the USA as a solo artist. Amadou Bansang Jobarteh was the favoured musician of Gambia’s first president, Dawda Jawara, after whom Dawda is named. But hereditary musicians from West Africa are not exactly uncommon, so what is it about Dawda that distinguishes him from his peers?
Dawda’s home is now firmly in Denmark. Here he has married and set up house. Here he has swapped the wedding and circumcision ceremonies that his uncles Malamini Jobarteh and Dembo Konte performed in rural Gambia, for educational tours of Scandinavia with bassist Moussa Diallo, or free-jazz perfomances with drummer Stefan Pasborg. Here with his own group he has appeared at rock festivals such as Roskilde, and from here he has ventured around the world onto stages in East Africa and clubs in New Delhi, India.
Necessarily, Dawda’s world view is modern and open-minded. His concerns are not the geneology of a local elite, but the impact of global economics on us all. Bright Sky Over Monrovia arose from a commission to write music for a theatrical production about blood diamonds. Efo concerns the frustration of nationally imposed border policies as they affect individuals. Yet his picture is never solely polemic. Whilst still a critic of polygamy, in Mba Sina, a song in homage to his mother’s co-wife, he is able to voice nuances that allow a more gentle interpretation.
Today it’s perhaps more common for some of these issues to be expressed by the new generation of African and South American hip hop artistes. But Dawda’s music is still firmly rooted in a tradition and when it looks outward, it does so to the more organic realms of jazz. It’s no accident that the album’s title reflects that of one of its tracks, a version of John Coltrane’s Transition, or that there is place for a free-wheeling improvisational duet between percussion and treated kora.
But ultimately Transitional Times, Dawda’s second on Sterns Africa, is intensely personal. As Dawda himself notes, with most vocals and kora instrumentals recorded at home over several years, this “recording has been the soundtrack of my children and wife's dreams for many nights.” We commend it to you.
"A product of Mande musical royalty, Dawda Jobarteh is the grandson of Alhaji Bai Konte and son of Amadou Bansang Jobarteh. His debut CD is an inventive ensemble work recorded with an international band in Denmark. A satisfying mix of original compositions and fresh arrangements of traditional classics. A young artist establishes himself as someone to watch for new directions in Mande music." - Afropop: "satisfying mix of original ... and ... traditional classics" – Afropop.
"The songs and instrumentals on this album are cool and contemporary in sound .... An impressive debut." - London Evening Standard
"2011 produced a bigger than usual crop of engaging new albums and important reissues. In no special order, here are ten new releases and five reissues: la crème de la crème." - All About Jazz
"Heavy songs with a light touch. Dawda has created a rich, original sound helped by an international line-up including the outstandingly versatile Danish guitarist Preben Carlsen and Ghanaian bass player Nana Osibio" - Songlines
"A great debut album from an impressive new artist” - Songlines: Best Albums 2011 – Songlines
"Politicians state they want to secure human rights, but they do not always practice this. Immigration laws can keep families apart and I miss my daughter."