Boraba, Gambia


Photographer: Bente Marei Stachowske

Year of Submission: 2016 (Educators Edition

Sainey Jobarteh, 35, is a griot. He travels from village to village with his kora, a twenty-one-stringed instrument with a long wooden neck and a soundbox made from half a calabash covered with cow skin. Every evening, when people gather after work, he sings and plays for them. Often he’s an entertainer bringing laughter to his audience. But sometimes he’s a historian, telling them about their families and traditions. Or perhaps he’s a mediator, settling disputes. Or maybe a one-person broadcaster bringing news and information from other places. Now, he says, he’s working on a song about how terrorism has changed the world. Sainey was born into a griot family in the village of Boraba in inland Gambia. His father was his teacher. He plays his father’s kora – decorated with a crescent moon and a five-pointed star, a symbol of spirituality, and with a hole on one side where people can put in money. One by one, he sings to the people around him. Everyone he singles out for attention has to give him something: if not money, then maybe food or a bed for the night.