Daniel Laemouahuma Jatta is a Jola musician of the akonting or
ekonting folk lute from the Gambian village of Mandinary near
Lamin, Western Region. He is also a scholar having conducted ground
breaking research which began in the mid-1980s into the Jola's
main traditional folk instrument, the akonting, and who, to many,
convincingly established the origins of the American Banjo in
The word Banjo, Jatta states, originates from the Mandinka word
"bangoe", from where the name of the Gambian capital,
Banjul, was derived.
The origins of the akonting are rooted in the Casamance region
of south-west Senegal. It is a plucked lute with a drum-like gourd
body (either round or shaped like a water droplet), a full-spike
stick neck, and three strings (two long melody strings and one
short drone string akin to the "thumb string" on the
In the mid-1980s, the tradition of constructing and playing the
akonting was little known outside the rural Jola villages spread
out within Senegambia. Even within these Jola communities, there
were a limited number of young people who showed an interest in
continuing the akonting musical tradition. Recognizing this fact,
Daniel Jatta's father - a traditional akonting player himself
- urged him to learn akonting and keep alive this important part
of their cultural inheritance.
In 2000, after over a decades' research work by Daniel Jatta the
Swedish scholar on the history of the Banjo, Ulf Jägfors, presented
him and his findings to the global banjo community at the Third
Annual Banjo Collectors Gathering in Concord, Massachusetts. The
conference was made up of antique banjo collectors, historians
of the instrument and organology.
For the community this was quite a surprise. Since the 1960s it
was believed that the banjo had its roots in the jali lutes such
as the Wollof xalam, the Fulani hoddu and the Mandinka's ngoni
etc. However, the early banjos shared none of the physical characteristics
of the standard griot lutes, except for a short thumb string.
Daniel Jatta was able to establish for the first time that the
Akonting players were using the same claw / hammer technique as
did the early minstrel Banjo players of 1830 -1840 who called
themselves the Virginia Minstrels, claiming that their music was
from the black people.
His findings have now been documented by the Washington-based
Daniel Jatta's research was backed by the International Cultural
Centre, Stockholm. His current residence is Sweden.
• Ajola •
• Alinum •