The Daughter of A Griot — Jainaba Mbye, A Singer, Dancer and Storyteller

African Idols
7 min readDec 15, 2022


Jainaba Mbye in a traditional Wolof outfit

Profile of Jainaba Mbye: Storyteller and Singer

“I am a storyteller, singer, dancer, and model. I have learned the beautiful West African cultures and stories from my parents because my dad is a well-known storyteller across the world. Storytelling has shaped me into a perfect model and singer because my dad used to tell us stories in the evenings when he was alive. I can recall him telling us stories about Sona Mariama, Ma Sanneh Ceesay, Kelefa Sanneh, Musa Mollah, etc. Most of these stories bear moral lessons“, said Jainaba Mbye, daughter of the late Jali Alagi Mbye.

Jainaba Mbye is a prolific Gambian singer, dancer, and model born on 27 February 2001 in Talinding, The Gambia. She attended Carter Upper Basic School and proceeded to Gambia Methodist Academy School (GMA) from 2017–2020. Jainaba Mbye is among the youngest Gambian traditional queens and one of the top emerging Gambian celebrities on Instagram. Being the daughter of renowned Gambian kora maestro and storyteller, Jali Alagi Mbye, Jainaba started her singing career at the age of seven. She has grown up and garnered fame across the Gambia and beyond in 2010 as a student at her father’s school, Maali’s Music School.

Jainaba was the choir leader at Carter Upper Basic School, and her passion for music and dancing arose in junior school when she demonstrated her passion for singing. Her parents were her teachers, and she was brought up in a griot family. Her family believes that the importance of the griot is not just singing and dancing; they also educate society, pass down history from one generation to another, and entertain and educate the community.

“I learned stories at night when my dad used to sit with us telling us stories until we fall asleep. One prominent story my dad once told me was about The Kora Griots. The story resonates a lot with my childhood and it compelled me into following my father’s footsteps and continuing his legacies as a storyteller, ’’ she added.

Jainaba and her mother and two friends from America: Njeri Plato and her daughter Folayan Griffiths. President and the Vice President of Delou Africa Inc.

Jainaba has the qualities of a good leader and demonstrated leadership traits while serving as a school prefect at Gambia Methodist Academy School. While still a student at Gambia Methodist Academy, she inspired hundreds of students and organized singing and dancing talent shows weekly to help students showcase their talent. The weekly talent shows were organized by the senior prefects of Gambia Methodist Academy. Jainaba studied commerce in high school and represented her school in notable competitions nationally and won numerous prizes for the school.

Jainaba at the Face of Beauty Gambia 5.0 2021

She was named contestant number seven at Face of Beauty Gambia 5.0, organized by Biddy’s Promotion on May 28, 2021. She was awarded the People’s Choice, Second Runner-Up, and Miss Entertainment at the Face of Beauty Gambia 5.0. She also worked with Delou Africa, Inc American-based organization in 2022 as a singer and creative person who immensely contributed to revealing our oral traditions (ROOT) at the Gambia International Cultural Exchange held from 16–31 March 2022. The international cultural exchange visitors from the USA show-cased what they have learned in the Gambia on March 30th, 2022. During the exchange program which was held at Talinding, the visitors were engaged into so many cultural activities and site visits to historical relics and monuments across the country. They donated to several villages and people, especially children in the provincial Gambia.

The Cultural Visitors donating to students
The Delegation of Delou Africa from the USA

She also hosts cultural programs such as Jali Buba Mbye’s Cultural Night Show at Talinding Bantaba. Jai sings and dances to inspire people. ‘’I use modeling as a tool to demonstrate my culture and tradition. I use music to preserve my culture and use dancing to find happiness,’’ said Jainaba Mbye.

Jainaba Mbye and her mother, Jali Mariama Saho hosting her brother’s Cultural Show

Jainaba was also part of her father’s school choir group, where she learned how to sing mainly in Mandinka and Wolof. As a fiercely brilliant young lady who is passionate about music at an early age, she is passionate about Manding and Wolof cultures. Unlike any other youngster, Jainaba doesn’t just jump into singing and dancing; she inherited the gift from her parents. Her mother, Jali Mariama Saho, has been reckoned as the best female vocalist and praise singer of her time. She was the lead praise singer of the late President of the First Republic of The Gambia, the late Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara.

Jali Mariama Saho, Jainaba’s mom.

Jainaba’s father, Jali Alagi Mbye, a veteran Gambian singer, storyteller, and kora player has been a professional musician since 1977. Jali Alagi Mbye has toured throughout Europe and Africa. He won notable awards and restored hope and confidence in traditional Gambian music. He taught so many people how to play the kora and served as a cultural ambassador for young people until his death in 2018. He died at the Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital in Banjul on Wednesday, December 2018 after a brief illness. The veteran, prior to his demise was the vice president of Cultural and Traditional Artistes on the Executive Board of the Music Union of The Gambia.

Jali Alagie was born in Jarra Barrow Kunda to Sutaring Mbye and Aja Jabou Jange. He went to Barrow Kunda Primary School and later Mansakonko Junior Secondary School but went in search of his tradition and learned to play the kora then started research on Manding history traveling across West Africa to gather facts about Manding.

Then he traveled abroad to Norway and Sweden where he stayed for a while before returning back to The Gambia. Alagie lectured traditional music at various universities across Scandinavia and built a school teaching Kora to lots of people to boost the Mandinka culture.

Jali Mbye used to produce the famous history of the Manding Empire on Gambia Radio and Television Service with Alagie Sarjo Barrow. His demise has closed another great historical manuscript containing important records of our past as people from the great ancient Manding Empire.

The late veteran Jali Alagi Mbye

Jainaba wants to continue her father’s legacy as a griot and singer. One of Jainaba’s dreams is to continue teaching music at her father’s school, Maali’s Music School. She wants to build a museum for her late father and preserve his legacies. Maali’s Music School was established in 1992 by the late Jali Alagi Mbye. The school teaches traditional music and serves as a secret society and custodian of Gambian culture and oral traditions. At present, there are no music facilities in the school to teach children about traditional Gambian music and culture. The Gambia is increasingly becoming a tourist destination that can boost the local economy.

Students of Maali’s Music School in 2000
The late Jali Alagi Mbye and his students at Maali’s Music School

Aside from singing, Jainaba Mbye has made name for herself in dancing. She won several dancing contests in the Gambia and performed almost on every stage across the country.

Jainaba Mbye performing at the Gambia Dance Competition in 2019 at Kairaba Beach Hotel

Jainaba is a very vibrant female voice in the Gambia’s arts and culture industry. She believes that through arts and culture, one can exchange her traditions and cultures with people. While growing up with her dad, she was involved with students from Scandinavia who came to study West African dance and music at Maali’s Music School. She interacted with many foreign visitors and students and exchanged cultures and traditions with them. She promotes international cultural exchange programs and was involved in the Delou Africa’s International Cultural Exchange program 2022 held in the Gambia. Why are culture and the arts important? Most people who participate in art and cultural activities would say that these activities enhance the quality of their lives — they bring about personal enjoyment, enriching perspectives, intellectual stimulation, and opportunities for public involvement. For Jainaba, art is a living being and culture is its soul. Jainaba believes the world is changing too fast, and young people must acquire an education that meets the contemporary setting’s demands. Arts and culture form an integral part of far-reaching and competitive training. America’s global structure, innovative culture, and business spirit are contingent on the forte of world-class education where arts and culture are subjects. The paybacks of arts and culture are infinite, including but not limited to the ones her father and family have created.

Jainaba Mbye at the Sunset Craft Market, Senegambia, The Gambia.

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