Interview with Daniel Jatta– This links to an Mp3 of an interview Eli conducted on 1/4/07 with Daniel Jatta, researcher of music (particularly the akonting, an African banjo predecesor) of the Jola tribe from Senegambia. In the interview Daniel plays Jola songs on the akonting, and gives a description of his research into the instrument and its clear connection to the African-American banjo. He also discusses the cultural center he has founded in Gambia to preserve and promote Jola culture and other traditional cultures of the region. This group in Africa has retained a musical culture closest to that which arrived with slaves brought to America from that region hundreds of years ago.
See myspace.com/akonting for more information on the akonting.
For field recordings of the akonting, see below:
This weeks show begins with a look at the Johnny Cash song “Cocaine Blues.” We’ll take a look at the family of songs that he got it from, going back into the old-time music tradition. Then we turn to the African roots of the banjo. Eli interviews Bela Fleck about his trip across Africa, the musicians he met there, the album and film he recorded and his thoughts on the African origin of the banjo. Then Eli will talk about some new research that is coming out on the “Akonting,” a very compelling and direct African banjo predecessor played by the Jola tribe of Senegambia. We’ll hear some field recordings, make comparisons between the Akonting and the banjo as played by elder African-American musicians and try to really hear specifically how our American music came directly from Africa. The past really happened- A sonic history more compelling than any text book!
Tracks played on this episode:
- Intro. John Henry- Sid Hemphill & band
- Cocaine Blues- Johnny Cash
- Chain Gang Blues- Riley Puckett
- Little Sadie- Clarence Ashley
- Field recodings of Akonting music, recorded by Daniel Jatta
- Roustabout – Mike Seeger
- Various tracks selected from CD “Black Banjo Songsters of North Carolina & Virginia.”
- Field recordings of Lucious Smith
- Bulldoze Blues – Henry Thomas
Daniel Jatta and the Jola akonting:
Daniel is doing real amazing work. For years American researchers have tried to trace “the roots of the blues” back to Africa, with little real success. African America music is just not that much like any African music that they could discover. Daniel’s research into the music of his tribe, the Jola, really presents the most direct link between African and African-American music that is known. The instrument that he learned from his father, the akonting, is obviously banjo like in its construcion and its playing technique is identical to that used by elder African-American banjo players here in the USA. The akonting music of the Jola also serves the same social role as African-American folk music such as folk-blues. It is played by regular people for mutal enjoyement, singing and dancing. This is in marked contrast to Mandinka griots who come from particular families, are part of a professional caste of musicians, and play praise songs for wealthy patrons.
Daniel has founded a center for the preservation of Jola culture in Mandinary, Gambia. The Jolas are a minority group in Senegambia and their older traditional cultural is vanishing under pressure from other more powerful and richer groups. The Jola are a non-hierarchical tribe, living in rural areas growing rice and have been greatly effected by the pull of jobs in cities and “progress” in general. That’s why Daniel, who has a western education and skills and could leave Africa entirely feels that it is so important to go back to his roots and his traditional cultural forms and give them the respect that they deserve.
The Jola Cultural Center that he has founded after years of work and preparation can go far in its mission, if its gets money to set its self up correctly. They are starting a co-operative farm to be self sufficient, but they need more funds to set everything up.
Daniel comes to the U.S. at least once a year now to continue his work here. He currently lives in Stockholm, Sweden and is available for interviews, lectures, and musical demonstrations. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org .
Click Here for Daniel Jatta’s original home page
Click Here for a video Ulf Jagfors made of Daniel Jatta explaining how to play akonting.
Remi Jatta Plays the Akonting – Filmed in the Casamance region of The Gambia in 2003. Great stuff!
Also definitely check out Paul Sedgwick’s myspace site: www.myspace.com/paulsedgwick
Click Here for a video Paul took in Africa of an akonting player (Jesus Jarju) who has just been presented witha banjo and is playing it for the first time. This is really cool!
– Paul says:
“I’ve posted a slide show of the akonting construction process (Jola builders). It’s actually better to click on “my pics” and view the photos as a regular gallery– you can peruse, take your time, and the pictures are a bit bigger. There is also a YouTube clip of Jesus Jarju playing a banjo tuned a la akonting (from my July, 2004 visit). (Click the YouTube screen, wait for it to tell you you can’t do that, then click it again). These are support materials for the upcoming Banjo Newletter article that Greg Adams and I have been working on. We also are utilizing one of Ulf’s clips of Remi giving a lesson (thanks Ulf?). We supply some detail in terms of relating the o’teck playing style to minstrel stroke style; detailed construction notes (akonting construction matches perfectly the Dena Epstein citation on pg. 36 [Tussac] of SINFUL TUNES); and a virtual lesson featuring Remi and including tablature and instructions for re-tuning your banjo!”
– In an email dated Sunday, January 28, 2007 Daniel Jatta wrote:
“The new world banjo as a folk instrument was used by enslaved Africans in the new world to fulfilled their social duties as they used to do in Africa before they came to the new world and not an instrument they developed in the new world because of “abject poverty” in the plantations as many people in the new world were made to understand the instrument.
The new world banjo (North America) or Banza( in the Caribbean countries) or “akonting”(in Africa) was one of the first artistic works of mandkind both in Africa and the new world . It is the first important African and African American contribution to world music.
I cannot and will not allow people to continue to see the instrument as a negative instrument when we all know today the contributions the instrument made to the whole world culturally, socially and most important of all economically.
How many Americans know that the higest export of the American economy today is “music”? And who created this music and which instrument? I leave this question for you all to research on.”