PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Dawda Jobarteh: Transitional Times

The West African kora goes from classical to cosmic on Dawda Jobarteh's brilliant sophomore release.

Dawda Jobarteh

Transitional Times

Label: Sterns Africa
US Release Date: 2016-10-14
UK Release Date: 2016-10-14

It's difficult to find, anywhere on the planet, an instrument more evocative than the kora. In nimble hands like Dawda Jobarteh's, it can sound like starlight, as capable of playing West African folk music as twangy bluegrass or smoky jazz or a host of other styles. Jobarteh makes the kora's versatility, as well as his own, crystal clear on Transitional Times, a no-holds-barred demonstration of musicianship and string power. There's a breathtaking range of music here, from Scandinavian lullabies to acid hits of Afrofuturism, and every second of it is absolutely beautiful.

The sheer range displayed from start to finish on Transitional Times means that in addition to a healthy dose of kora, there isn't a single lull, no droning filler tracks to bridge gaps between the interesting bits. Instead, every possible context is explored with skill and care.

Jobarteh starts with his feet firmly on the ground, as soothing track "Winter Trees Stand Sleeping" serves as a gentle opener, almost entirely made up of solo kora and a melody that ascends and descends with soft steps. Acoustic and earthy, it could practically sneak into A Prairie Home Companion without anyone realizing how far from Lake Wobegon they really were. From there, the breeze blows harder, and subsequent songs feel more awake than the titular winter trees. Single "Efo" brings in strong vocal harmonies and a darker intensity as Jobarteh sings about human rights, and electronic filters dial up the emotional volume.

From that point forward, the floodgates are open. Brighter, more traditional sounds for the Sunday afternoon crowd abound, hitting that perfect balance: warmth, not heat; sundown, not high noon. A full drum kit and saxophone make many of these pieces even more accessible. "Kaira" sounds like a trip through wine country, while "Transition" sounds like an early night at an Istanbul jazz club.

Right in the middle of the album, Jobarteh heads into the space age with "Jamming in the Fifth Dimension", an intergalactic piece of hard electro-funk that lives up to its ambitious title, taking the kora far from its stately roots and blasting off into a land of fire and ecstasy, going from the Gambia to Jupiter and beyond. It's a faster-than-light frenzy, a true voyage into the unknown, especially when it comes to the kora. Following this, "Lullaby Med Jullie" takes the album back to the ground, landing squarely in the north. Featuring the vocals of Danish singer Jullie Hjetland Jensen, the song folds African and European sounds together in a light, sweet duet.

Warm, rhythmic Afropop tracks keep up the momentum for the rest of the album. "Kanoo" stands out as a particularly drum-heavy interlude before "Presenting the King" sees the kora at its most elegant in a slow and majestic march. Wrapping up the album is "Dalua", peppered with birdsong and fluttering strings for a lively ending.

With such a delicate timbre and flexible sound, it's true that it's hard to go wrong with the kora. To lump Jobarteh in with any other kora masters, though, would be a mistake. His instincts and confidence with his instrument allow Transitional Times to go where most classically-trained string players never venture, with comforting folk tracks and experiments that lie far outside the box. Dawda Jobarteh has a shining future as he continues to embrace every musical possibility, and it's a future he's shaped for himself.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.