Sona Jobarteh – St George’s June 7

Sona Jobarteh is a wonderfully charismatic performer – on kora, voice and guitar (played, as far as I could tell, in what I shall now think of as kora finger-style: thumb and index finger only). She has a great band, too. Last night’s show at St George’s was a treat, as recorded here by the  perceptive blogger Emma Champion.

But still… What a difference a drummer makes. Wesley Joseph on drums was also a superb player. I love some drums – I’ve heard live shows from most of the leading jazz drummers of the last half century, and seek out their recordings.

However, I kind of wished he hadn’t been there last night. Nothing personal. But a full-length set I listened through on YouTube a day before this gig featured just a four piece – same (really excellent) five-string bassist, Andy McLean, a different guitarist, and the brilliant and inventive percussionist Mamadou Sarr. The interaction between Sarr and Jobarteh was a highlight of that set.

More, it seemed a perfectly balanced band. It’s well recorded, and you can hear everything, each of the four enhancing the others. With the addition of a trap set, the sound in St George’s was much more problematic. There was more amplification, which obscures the natural beauty of the sound of the kora. And the addition of snares and cymbals intrudes on the end of the frequency range where much of the kora sound lies. The result was muddy and a little frustrating. A retreat to the back of the hall, and then ascent to the gallery in the interval, improved things somewhat, but there was still a density of percussion that this music didn’t need. The voice mostly still cut through. The kora, and the guitars often didn’t. Seems a shame.

I thought the addition of drums was new, augmenting a previous working band but I now see other, earlier clips on youtube feature (I think) the same drummer, so I guess the first one that caught my fancy was an exception, and drums plus percussion is the usual line-up. Oh well, I hope she comes back … and maybe the budget or scheduling conflicts will take things back to a four-piece again, just to have a chance to enjoy that rather clearer sound live.

See which you prefer:

Without drummer. This one’s been viewed 4 million times (!) so I assumed it was the regular ensemble…


And with drummer, though also with rather clearer sound than we enjoyed last night…

Meantime, this taste of kora provides an incentive to book for a just-announced date in November at the same venue, where Catrin Finch and Sekou Keita’s harp and kora duo will sound fabulous, I’m sure. Missed their recent date in Bath, so this is a welcome chance to hear them: a recordings I have on download is one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.

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