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This world-renowned Gambian musician is building an academy so children can study their own culture -- without leaving Africa

September 13, 2020. Summarized by summa-bot.

She has found international fame as a musician, but Sona Jobarteh has a bigger mission -- to use culture to empower Africans to reform their countries.

She has found international fame as a musician, but Sona Jobarteh has a bigger mission -- to use culture to empower Africans to reform their countries.

Jobarteh has been performing with the kora -- a 21-stringed African harp -- on the world stage since she was five years old, becoming the first professional female kora player in the West African country of The Gambia.

As well as being an acclaimed performer, Jobarteh is a scholar in the field of traditional West African Mande music, and it was during her studies at SOAS University in London that she came to a realization.

"But why should Africans leave Africa to go and study their own culture?

Wanting to give Gambians a sense of pride in their own culture, Jobarteh is now building an expansive campus for academic and cultural studies -- complete with concert hall, amphitheater and recording studio.

Jobarteh founded The Gambia Academy in 2015, teaching school-age children a mainstream curriculum alongside African history, culture and traditional music.

Her idea was to create a course of study that highlighted the country's culture in a way that could be replicated and implemented across the country.

The Academy started with 21 students -- "to symbolize the kora's 21-stings," said Jobarteh -- in a makeshift facility in Farato, a rural town in western Gambia.

The intake has since expanded to 40 students, whose fees are paid by Jobarteh.

But with a growing waiting list of new applicants, the academy is expanding to a purpose-built site in Kartong, southwestern Gambia, with capacity for 500 students, ranging in age from eight to 18.

The academy also plans to invite international students and musicians to further the educational experience of the children.

"Center for cultural knowledge"

Building in a remote location in rural Gambia comes with plenty of challenges: "heat, humidity and heavy downpours" along with "termite infestation and snakes," said the British project manager Ron Mitchell in an interview.

"For the first time there will be a place of learning in a bright, natural setting that blends African tradition, arts and culture with academia that allows disadvantaged young people to learn alongside adults from all over the world," he said.

The most eye-catching elements are the "five specialist cultural facilities" -- including a multimedia department, concert hall and archive library -- which Jobarteh hopes will form a "center for cultural knowledge. "

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