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
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
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Tel no: 0046-736175973
• Inye Oyeh