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African Roots of the Banjo Discussed Dec. 6

112305banjo_dl_000.jpgBOONE—A concert and mini-symposium on the African roots of the banjo will be held Tuesday, Dec. 6, at Appalachian State University. Admission is free but donations will be accepted.

Activities begin at 3:30 p.m. with a panel discussion in Plemmons Student Union’s Blue Ridge Ballroom. Swedish scholar Ulf Jagfors, folklorist Cece Conway from Appalachian and musicians Daniel Jatta and James Leva will talk about the Akonting tradition and the evolution of the banjo.

Jatta, a native of Gambia, will perform on the Jola Akonting folk lute, a predecessor of the banjo beginning at 8:30 p.m. in the Blue Ridge Ballroom. Joining him will be Leva on the fiddle and Rick Ward, a mountain banjo player and maker.

The programs are sponsored by the Appalachian Heritage Council and Department of English at Appalachian, and the Blue Ridge Folklife Institute.

Since 1984, Jatta has dedicated himself to the performance and preservation of the Jola Akonting folk lute, a unique facet of his culture’s musical heritage. After earning an MBA in the United States, Jatta returned to Gambia and immersed himself in the Akonting musical and cultural traditions that were on the brink of extinction.

In 1999, Jatta lectured in Stockholm, Sweden, where he met Ulf Jagfors, a Swedish scholar whose curiosity about the banjo has led him to investigate earlier related traditions that existed in Egypt and Africa.

Jatta and Jagfors documented the Akonting musical and cultural traditions and developed The Akonting Center: The Senegambia Center for Folk Music Research and Education (SCFRE) in Mandinary, Gambia.

Leva is one of the finest old-time fiddle and banjo players and singers touring today. He has worked with several generations of performers and recorded with many bands including Fred Cockerham, Tommy Jarrell, the Hellbenders, the Free Will Savages, the Renegades, Plank Road, and Ace Weems and the Fat Meat Boys.

He has performed at festivals throughout North America and Europe and has taught at Swannanoa Gathering, Fiddletunes, and in Augusta, Ga., and the Puget Sound area. His critically acclaimed recordings include “Til I Know,” “Memory Theater,” “Vertie’s Dream,” “Journey Home” and “Light Enough to Find My Way.”

Ward from Beech Mountain is a soulful musician with a deep understanding of banjo and singing traditions in the Blue Ridge and of the history of the region.

For more information, e-mail Appalachian Heritage Council member Mecca Jackson at or call the Center for Appalachian Studies at (828) 262-4089.

Picture Caption: Daniel Jatta will discuss and perform on the Jola Akonting folk lute, an African predecessor to the banjo, Dec. 6 at Appalachian State University. (Photo courtesy of Daniel Jatta)