I experienced an incredible evening of music at the Paramount Theatre on Sunday. The legendary Taj Mahal Quintet was awesome. He played the guitar, banjo, and many other instruments. Mahal continues to reshape the definition and scope of blues music over the course of his more than 50-year career by fusing it with nontraditional forms, including sounds from the Caribbean, Africa, India, Hawaii, and the South Pacific. He had the audience on their feet, singing along and having a marvelous evening of great music!   

Taj is such a nice gentleman. My good friend, Bassist Bill Rich introduced me to Taj many years ago at Red Rocks. Bill has been performing with Taj for over 40 years! Also, in the quintet Guitarist and lap steel guitar Bobby Ingano, Steel Drummer Robert Greenidge, and Drummer Tony Dee. Taj and I had a splendid conversation after the show.   

The fascinating Sona Jobarteh opens the show. She is captivating with her music and stage performance. I especially loved it when she introduced her son Sidiki Jobarteh-Codjoe who plays the balafon (an ancient West African instrument), to come on stage and perform with her. Sona is a Gambian multi-instrumentalist, vocalist, and composer. She is from one of the five principal kora-playing griot families of West Africa and is the first female professional kora player to come from a griot family. Sona has studied the kora since the age of three, at first taught by her brother Tunde Jegede, who is 11 years older, and with whom she traveled several times a year to the Gambia as a child, and then by her father, Sanjally Jobarteh. The playing of this 21-stringed harp-like instrument was exclusively passed down from father to son. She attended the Royal College of Music, where she studied cello, piano, and harpsichord, and soon after went on to the Purcell School of Music to study composition. 

Jobarteh is a member of one of the five principal kora-playing (griot) families from West Africa, and the first female member of such a family to rise to prominence on this instrument.  

Her debut album was Afro-Acoustic Soul, containing songs about bittersweet love and social themes. The influences on this album are mixed with some that could be played on more conventional European radio formats.  Her second was Fasiya (2011). She makes a guest appearance on the 2021 album Djourou by Ballake Sissoko. 

Photography by Myles King – homepage: The Taj Mahal Quintet, this page: top-Tree King, bassist Bill Rich, & Taj Mahal, bottom-Sona Jobarteh

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