Kernel Fresh Diaries: Miatta Fahnbulleh’s Story

Liberia Lendary Singer!

Source: (Ragnar Singsaas/Getty Images Europe)

Artist Biography by Andrew Hamilton

Liberian-born singer Miatta Fahnbulleh remains one Africa’s finest voices. She always wanted to sing, but the bug really bit her at 16, a desire that caused problems with her father, the Liberian Ambassador to Sierra Leone. Liberia was not very progressive, and women, especially ambassadors’ daughters, didn’t sing in dance halls and clubs, so Fahnbulleh pursued her craft on the down-low. She once came in second in a talent contest that she couldn’t attend because her father found out and wouldn’t let her go; the judges graded her from a tape. At 19, after graduating from high school in Sierra Leone she moved to Nairobi, Kenya to attend Junior College. She dropped out and moved to Monrovia, Liberia to D.J., alienating her father who wrote her out of his will and distanced himself from her. She started singing professionally, often making more money in one night then most Liberians made in a month. Shortly after that, her father was sentenced to 20 years in prison for treason and other charges. Seeing no future in Monrovia, Fahnbulleh boarded a plane in 1968 for New York, NY. She immediately displayed her singing skills by entering a contest at the Apollo Theater and coming in second. Fahnbulleh not only sang, but composed and produced her songs also. She never made an impact in the States because of bad advice, bad luck, and the paranoia that everybody wanted sexual favors in return for helping her career, which went against her Muslim upbringing. Her breakout should have been with Donald Byrd, whom she wrote and composed songs with for an LP. A meddling friend, however, convinced her she was getting ripped off and she backed out of the project before the recording date. A contract with Ed Townsend, who later broke the bank with “Let’s Get It On” for Marvin Gaye, literally went up in smoke when Townsend’s recording studio mysteriously burned down. At the time, Townsend and Motown Records were embroiled in a lawsuit over the use of Townsend’s studios to record the Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” while they were under contract to Motown. She never came close to cementing a deal again and returned home in 1974. Her time in the States did serve a purpose, she achieved a degree in Music and Drama from the American Music & Dramatic Academy in New York. In Africa, she started performing and recording in earnest, doing an album with Hugh Masekela in Lagos, Nigeria that was shelved for years. She toured with Masekela in 1976 in the States, then took part in the Festac Festivals. She moved to England for seven years, a country where she had spent four years in boarding school as a juvenile. In England, she became involved with the community of Africans and won the populace’s respect before returning to Africa in 1984 to continue her activist activities, becoming a dynamic speaker for issues concerning women and children. Fahnbulleh became a Good Will Ambassador for ECOWAS in 1990, an organization of 16 African counties involved in the integration of the West Coast of Africa. In 1991, she became the official Good Will Ambassador of Liberia. She’s recorded and produced several albums, and her songs are featured on many compilation albums. She’s artistic and unique enough to seek out, like a painting by a master, a few selections by Fahnbulleh will enhance and add value to any music collection.





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