Interview with Tatadingding Jobarteh

Tatadingding Jobarteh is one of Gambia’s leading Kora players of international renown. His Salam Band has Tatadindingbeen in existence for over two decades now. As the lead vocalist, Tatadingding is famous in both The Gambia and abroad.

Before he finally came to be based in the Gambia, he was very popular in the Diaspora, especially in places like Germany, where he has performed in numerous concerts and festivals. He studied music engineering and wanted to apply that to not only his band but Gambian music in general.

In early 2014, Tata developed a leg infection and fell ill. When the leg infection got serious, he was later flown to Dakar for proper medical treatment.

Unfortunately, the leg of the Brikama born “Jali” was amputated last June. He recently came home looking healthy and confident.

When foroyaa Art and Music visited him at his Brikama Sanchaba residence, he was first asked, how he feels after missing the stage for almost two years?

That’s like a nightmare. Sitting one year eight months without performing is like I’m not existing. I really missed the stage and God knows that almost every day I dream that I am performing for people. I can’t really imagine that I missed the stage for almost two years.

Tell us a brief background as to how you started?

I was born in the Kora. I grew up seeing my parents playing Kora. My father is a kora legend, the great grandparents are kora legends and of course even my mum is from a Kora family. So when we were born, we were trained to follow the same line.

Was it a choice for you to play the Kora or it was a matter of must that you must play the Kora?

Actually it was not a force on me, it was my choice but the same time a tradition in my family which I dare not to ignore. I remember when I was very young my dad used to punish me with the Kora. When I misbehaved he will give me though assignments regarding the Kora, I must composed and tune the kora to some melodies he assigned which can be really difficult for me considering my age at that time. So I will say it was my choice but also tradition.

How did your international journey started?

In 1993, with my sister Siffai Joberteh it was in Germany and from that year almost every year we signed a contract to perform in Europe. Later I decided to stay and studied music. It was good that I do that because I knew the kora and Gambian music background but realized that I have to learned universal music. This I did so I can bring what I learnt to the Gambia.

Year 2000 I decided to stay finally in Germany because I was working with a big university in Kalone.

I had the opportunity to not only learn but also lecture traditional music at the university.

Who actually trained you the Kora, Jaliba Kuyateh or your Father?

My father Malamin Jobarteh, I mastered the kora and all I needed to know was about its components with my father. But later I learned about another Kora legend Jaliba Kuyateh. When I ask my father he told me that infact Jaliba is my uncle. We bought kolanut went to Jaliba and my Father ask him to add more lectures for me regarding the Kora. I was under Jaliba for about two years.

Are you the first born of the Joberteh Family?

Yes am the first born. I actually had an elder brother and sister but they passed away so now I will say am the first born and the bread winner of the family. I have a sister she is in the U.S now and she is also a ‘jali’ (griot) doing traditional griot music in America. I have a younger brother Pa Bobo Jobarteh doing the same thing I am doing, infact he was responsible of the band when I was sick. You have Bai Jobarteh he is not actually singing but he is the drum set player for the band (both Pa and I).

Dembo Joberteh is a brother; he is Kora player, builder and kora teacher. Landing Jobarteh is my brother; he is a keyboard player in the Army Band.

Considering the fact that you are sick, does your long absence affects the Jobarteh family since you are the breadwinner?

A lot. Financially, morally and in all aspects that you think of. My two years sickness does not only affect me but my entire family, this was really a difficult moment. Not to loose hope I have to tell you that when I was sick my brothers also did well (that’s Pa Bobo and Bai Jobarteh) to continue with concerts to makes sure the family has something to eat.

I want to know something about your childhood. Which schools did you attend?

I actually attended three schools when I was a child. That is English, Arabic and Kora.

The English school I attended is Brikama primary school, Primary 1 to 6 then Brikama Technical Secondary school, form 1 to form 4.

People said you were in Germany for 10 years and you only came back to Gambia when you had a problem.

That’s not true. I never have any issues with the German Immigration. I never have any paper problem and never have any drug case problems. That’s just a rumor.

How did you sell the name of the Kora internationally?

Some of them wrote books about me and the Kora in Germany. Always in my tours in Europe I talk about the Kora and Gambian music and our traditional instruments. I told you I was also lecturing at a university in Germany. I was also teaching kids at schools about the Kora.

What were you planning to do before you got ill?

Working on two albums and planning a European tour.

How did it all start, I mean your leg?

Started with a huge bone pain, later the leg got swollen. I first started with rational medications but it became worse. I went to the hospital MRC, RVTH and Serrekunda General Hospital for diagnose. All these hospitals said they did not find any sickness in my blood. They could not ascertain what exactly happen to my leg. The pain was too much on me, this kind of pain I have never experience in my life. Almost one year eight months from one marabout to the other, from one hospital to the other, until finally I travelled overseas to be amputated.

Does the amputation frustrate you?

Not at all. Am glad that am amputated and the pain is gone. Am happy that am amputated and back to my family, am happy that am amputated and will be able to perform for my fans again. Am happy that am amputated and you are here talking to me. If I was not amputated this interview would have not been possible. Am happy that I will be able to go back on stage again. Alhamdulilah !!!

Apart from God, will you point accusing fingers to someone who might be responsible of your sickness?

No no, I don’t want to talk about that. Am faithful and believed that anything that happened to me is God.

Your own daughter Matta Jawo performed few shows on your name when you were on your sick bed. How did you receive that news?

It made me very proud. I also surprised my dad when I was even younger than her at a ceremony nobody knew that I was good at singing. One of the “mansa bengo” in Brikama Suma kunda I went in to the crowd took the mike and started singing, my father and his friends were very surprised. So this is not a big surprise for me that she performed some shows for me, but made me very proud.

You were very open to people, because you were sick, will you be a bit careful now as to how to deal with the people?

Yes I was very open and thought that people are all one and will not harm each other. I will still maintain that am faithful and anything that happened to me is God but I will also be a bit careful now as to my day to day dealings with people.

Your stage use to be very “hot” should we expect the same thing when you are back?

Yes why not? This time my music on stage will be more spiritual. Music is not alone it comes with something don’t forget that we are black people.

Were your fans still loyal and supporting you during the time you were down?

Oh my God! now you making me emotional. I will not say my fans I will say Gambian people in general.

Even though I was not in the Gambia but people were so concern about my health. They send me emails, they text me on my facebook page and some even called to check on me. Many thanks to all of them, my family also were so supportive. I was not alone in this sickness honestly.

When you were sick you must get lot of inspiration which may lead you to write a song. Can you share with us which song you worked on when you were sick?

Yes, it will be the first song I will perform and record. The song will talk about the new Tata telling the fans that is still me. If am amputated that does not mean my fans should run away. Is still the same music and the same Tata, it will be a very touching song that people will love.

I want to introduce my amputation to people in public. I don’t have to hide it because God said it should happen to me before I die, I should be proud of it.

Are you the King of Kora in the Gambia?

No, my father Malamin Jobarteh is the King of Kora those days and now Jaliba Kuyateh is the King of Kora in the Gambia.

Do you acknowledge that Jaliba is the King of Kora?

Is not about me to acknowledge, this is about God my brother, during the time of my father he was the king of Kora this generation is Jaliba Kuyateh and there is nothing me or you can do about that. You see if people want to call me the King of Kora I will not allow that because even for nothing but Jaliba is my elder, my uncle, so how can I jump and say am the king of Kora, in our customs and the way we are brought up, it’s a bit rude.

Jaliba being your uncle, in what way does he support you when you were sick?

He visited me twice. He actually came to a funeral that’s where we met so I introduced my sickness to him. He visited me again as to see how I was doing. I will prefer not to talk about Jaliba in this interview any more please.

Ok which other Gambian artist showed you love when you were sick?

I can’t mention them all or I may start mentioning and forget others. Some of them really were concern about my sickness. Some of them came here and said they want to go in the streets with a banner bearing my name which will say “LEAVE TATA ALONE” But I discouraged them.

During your rather long sickness, did you lose some of your band members who could not wait for you to recover?

My band, I will say is the most loyal band in the world. Almost two years they are still here strong and waiting for me to be on stage and we continue from where we stopped. Since I established the salam band there are five pillars who are still with the band, almost two decades they are still with me, very loyal people.

Brikama sateba is one of your songs which was or still very popular, whats that song all about?

That song is not officially released but I perform it on stage sometimes. I am still working on the lyrical content of the song. Well, in the song am talking about my own town Brikama with all its 25 kabilos. I also talked about the history of Brikama and historical places in Brikama. It will be a song in the Album that will help lot of people to know about my town, Brikama.

“Alkana sila” is a song you actually recorded before you became sick, some people however said you recorded the song because you knew that you will be sick and in the song you were advising people not be afraid about you? Is that so?

Yes. But how did they know that? (laughs..) some people are like devils they can read what I have in mind. Actually, few months before I got sick I had a feeling that something will happen to me so I came with that song. It’s a popular one people love it so much. People always request it when am performing, then few months later my leg ‘attacked’ me.

When do you want to go back on stage?

Tomorrow (haha) but my Doctor wants me to wait for another month or so then I will be fit to perform. But really I miss the stage and the people and if I can go on stage even tomorrow I will.

You know I also missed helping football clubs, they always use my band to raise money for their football clubs, I missed that too.

Please tell my fans that I will soon be on stage. Am doing very well at home and their prayers are answered. Thank you for coming down for this interview.