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Daniel Jatta

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 West Africa.

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 5-srting Banjo.

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 Smithsonian Institute.

Daniel Jatta's research was backed by the International Cultural Centre, Stockholm. His current residence is Sweden.

Discography / Music Downloads:


Contact Details:
Tel no: 0046-736175973

Inye Oyeh

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