West Africa’s only female ngoni artist performs at College of Charleston

  • Thursday, March 13, 2014

West African musician Kokanko Sata Doumbia will perform at the College of Charleston's School of the Arts recital hall on March 13, at 7:30 p.m. She is touring the U.S. as part of the Cradle of Jazz Project, and will perform in Charleston for the College's Program in the Carolina Lowcountry and Atlantic World (CLAW).

Growing up, she played percussion with gourd drums and scrapers for other musicians before teaching herself to play the ngoni, or “boy's harp.” As West Africa's only female ngoni player, her interest in the ngoni proved controversial – the instrument is traditionally played by male hunters. Over time, though, Doumbia's unique musical style has made her an internationally recognized ngoni artist.

Doumbia, often praised for breaking gender barriers with Malian music, will tour through the end of April with the Cradle of Jazz Project, which specializes in educating students in the instruments and musical styles that bore American jazz as well as the West African slave trade that brought jazz music to the U.S.

“In hearing Kokanko's music, we can hear elements of the music that came to the colonial U.S. during the trans-Atlantic slave trade,” Julie Moore, founding president and executive director of the Cradle of Jazz Project said. “Charleston played a large part in the slave trade – many people from West Africa, in particular, were sent to Charleston and sold on its shores. Instruments such as the ngoni were allowed on the slave ships to keep up the spirits of the captives.”

Doumbia's music communicates the strength of women and her experience with male/female relationships. “Her songs are deep and expressive,” Moore said. “They tell stories about the hardships of being a woman in West Africa. She is a leader for all the people in West Africa who can't find their voice.”

John White, dean of Libraries at the College and former director of the CLAW program, said, “We are thrilled to host Kokanko for a performance. Her music is an important piece of the Atlantic World cultural exchange dating back centuries, and our students will learn so much about West African culture and its musical impact on the Lowcountry from this wonderful performance.”

The Cradle of Jazz strives to illuminate the influence of West African music, theory and culture in American musical traditions, and to encourage the academic success and advancement of West African scholars, students and musicians.

For more information, email John White at whitej@cofc.edu.

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