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Interviews Olga Klebanovskaja

On 25th of April 2023, two talented musicians, Dawda Jobarteh (Gambia) and Stefan Pasborg (Denmark), presented to the Jazzkaar audience a unique combination of two instruments drums and kora. Despite a tight schedule and soundcheck, they managed to find a few minutes for an interview.


You have performed at many jazz festivals and concerts before. Is this your first jazz festival in Estonia?

Stefan: No. I have been here a few times, and my first performance at Jazzkaar happened 25 years ago. I was performing at the Salt Store (Estonian Centre for Architecture, Rotermanni) at the time.

Dawda: This is my first time at Jazzkaar.


And this is your first time performing in Estonia?

Dawda: Yes, this is my first time in Tallinn, so I am very excited to perform for Estonian people. It looks like a beautiful city with nice people. I look forward to sharing our music with the audience today.

Stefan: Yes, it is always nice to come here.


Is there a difference in audience when you travel from one country to another?

Stefan: That’s always the same question we get asked. Doesn’t matter if we perform in Thailand or Brazil, everyone will ask this question. Because everyone wants to be special.

Dawda: It is always different, and sometimes it may also depend on the place we are performing at.

Stefan: Also, the different cultures – is this a small town or a big city. The audience in the smaller towns may be quieter. But Tallinn is a big city and seems everyone is happy here. I have really good memories of performing here 25 years ago.


It’s no secret that Dawda’s family is very musical. Your grandfather, Alhaji Bai Konte, was one of the first solo kora artists to tour the United States, and Amadou Bansang Jobarteh, your father, was the favorite musician of Gambia’s first president, Dawda Jawara – the person you were named after. Is it true?

Dawda: Correct, that’s how I got my first name. And yes, I come from a musical family, from both my father’s and mother’s sides.


What about you, Stefan? Are there musical roots in your family?

Stefan: My mother was a ballet dancer, so I was very much into Stravinsky’s music. I made a lot of my own arrangements of Stravinsky’s music. And my godfather is a very famous (Danish) drummer. His name is Alex Riel. He gave me my first drums at the age of three. So yes, I can say I have had a lot of music in my life.

Dawda: He (Alex Riel) is a very special man. The opportunity to perform on the same stage with him and Stefan has been an honor for me.


Stefan, do you still play with your godfather?

Stefan: Not anymore, but in the past, we used to play a lot together. We had a band together.


More than 10 years have passed since you started performing together. Could you please describe how you met each other and started working together?

Dawda: There is a venue in one of the Danish cities. They had a dance festival, and decided to make a concert, a performance of two artists that had never played before. I got a call and an invitation to perform with Stefan. I honestly had to check him out because I did not know him. I think for Stefan it was the same.

Stefan: Yes, the same. Although we didn’t know each other at all, we agreed to play together. And it was a really good concert.

Dawda: We met just once before the concert, but there was a very good connection and spirit. So that’s how we met 10 years ago.


Stefan, were you surprised by the Dawda’s instrument?

Stefan: Yeah. I knew and had seen kora before, but never played it.


Your musical backgrounds are very different, and you play instruments that aren’t exactly alike. Is it easy to put kora and percussion sounds together?

Stefan: That would be stupid to answer ‘yes, it is easy’. Of course, it is easy to communicate with Dawda because he’s a fantastic musician, but it’s never easy to play the music together because you have to be humble and think about what I do. We also come from very different cultures, so some things may get lost in translation.

Dawda: Yes, I agree. It’s not easy, but when communication and spirit fit, you stop thinking about your instrument. You start thinking about the music and the process of making the music.


Throughout your career, you have collaborated and performed around the world. Besides performing together, you are also performing in a band and with other solo musicians. Do you have any artists in mind for future collaborations? Are there any dream artists in mind, with whom you would like to collaborate?

Stefan: It is not an interesting question for me, because it is about what is within yourself. It is not about performing with ‘’big names’’, but how can you find a true sound within yourself. That’s what is important to me. Of course, I would like to play with great musicians, but playing and making music together with less known artists is also very interesting.

Dawda: Yes, it’s about what kind of music I can do, and the connections I could build with people.


You both have various awards in your pockets – Dawda’s latest album was nominated for a Swedish Manifest Award 2022 and reached to number 3 on World Music Chart Europe. Stefan was a ‘’New Name Of The Year’’ and Jazz Discovery of the 2004. Are there any dream awards or goals that you would like to achieve in your music career?

Dawda: My goal is always to be a better version of myself.

Stefan: Honestly, the prizes are not a motivation for me. If I hear myself playing, and I like it – I am happy. There are times when I am not pleased with the way I played or performed. To find the true self in music is important, and not the prizes.


And last question if you had one message to give to your Jazzkaar audience, what would it be?

Dawda: Keep this festival going!

Stefan: I would also like to add: keep being curious. Don’t have a pre-determined idea of what jazz is. Always feel that jazz is developing and it doesn’t have anything to do with the past. Jazz is the future. It is also the past, but it is something that hasn’t stayed in the 60’s. And that’s what I feel about your festival. People here are curious and interested in music. I love the vibe here among the people. Keep going, Jazzkaar.


Dawda Jobarteh and Stefan Pasborg Duo

April 25th at 8 pm, Fotografiska Tallinn



Dawda Jobarteh – kora

Stefan Pasborg – percussion


Check out the photos of the concert here.