A world-renowned Gambian musician has been awarded an Honorary Fellowship from Goldsmiths in recognition of his work using music to improve perinatal mental health.
Jaliba Kuyateh, known internationally as the King of Kora, travelled from The Gambia to London with his 21-string Kora, to receive his honorary fellowship at Goldsmiths' graduation ceremony on Thursday 19 January 2023.
The musician took to the stage to accept his Honorary Fellowship, which he described as “a historic and momentous occasion”.
Jaliba was recognised for his work alongside Goldsmiths Professor Lauren Stewart on The Community Health Intervention through Musical Engagement (CHIME) project, uncovering how embedded musical practices might be developed to support perinatal mental health across Africa.
Accepting his Honorary Fellowship, Jaliba said: “I feel deeply honoured and yet humbled by this afternoons ceremony marking the confinement of the award of an Honorary Fellowship.. in recognition of my distinguished music career but also my contribution to the CHIME project in The Gambia for maternal mental health, which my friend and collaborator Professor Lauren Stewart so compassionately led in my home country and to which I was proud and happy to be apart of.”
Professor Stewart worked with Jaliba and other musicians to develop different ways to encourage partner support during the perinatal period in The Gambia using community music engagement.
As part of the project, Jaliba wrote a song focusing on the importance of partner support during pregnancy, which was toured across communities in The Gambia with the message spreading further through radio and television programmes.
Ahead of the ceremony, Jaliba spoke about his journey to becoming the ‘Godfather’ of Gambian music and the ‘King of Kora.’ He said: “When I was born, the Kora was around me, it was not something I could have avoided. So I was trained at a tender age from seven years old.
“My father would use it to sort of police me if I did anything wrong and would not allow me to go and play with my friends until I mastered a certain tune. So in that way, I was introduced to it and I had the background knowledge in my blood and the family.”
He went on to train and work as a teacher in The Gambia, before focusing on his music and the Kora full-time. Throughout his career spanning four decades, Jaliba has used his music as a force for positive change, representing themes of peace, brotherhood and togetherness through deep and metaphorical songs.
He has recently released an album on the theme of cyber-bullying and online hate, after a rise in cyberbullying on TikTok, WhatsApp and Facebook. He said: “Sometimes, I see certain things that are odd in society and I try to address them with my lyrics. With my lyrics, I try to address certain situations so that we make them right.”
Following his participation in the CHIME project, Jaliba continues to work with governmental and non-governmental on educating communities on various issues from women’s rights to climate change and health using his musical talent. He is also a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for his work promoting children’s rights and welfare in The Gambia.
On stage at the ceremony, Jaliba described his Honorary Fellowship as “marking yet another milestone in my music career across time and space” before a special performance playing the Kora to the audience of Goldsmiths’ graduands and guests, closing the winter graduation ceremony at the Queen Elizabeth II Centre.