Liberia musical diva, Miatta Fahnbulleh meets Jimi Solanke

By Benjamin Njoku/Vanguard Online

Madam Miatta Fahnbulleh

Liberian musical diva, Miatta Fahnbulleh alongside Nigeria’s acclaimed folklorist, playwright and actor, Jimi Solanke will be headlining the revived Elders’ Forum, which comes up this Sunday, at popular celebrity hangout, O’jez, inside the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos.

The once popular highlife music show, monthly organized by O’jez Entertainment in collaboration with Evergreen Musical Company was rested for about three years now, but it’s back again. Miatta Fahnbulleh The forum was used in the past as a medium to recognize and honour individuals who have distinguished themselves in the arts and music industry.

According to Chief Joseph Odobeatu, CEO of O’jez Entertainment Group, the Elders’ Forum was rested for about three years to enable it come back in a different shape and style. “We had to go back to the drawing board and work out a way to make the every last Sunday of the month event that rocked Lagos for almost 15 years look fresher and better.

So, O’jez went into a partnership with Evergreen Musical Company to make this happen. What you will witness on Sunday is a sharp departure from the past editions because we will strive to reinvent ourselves,” Odobeatu said. Meanwhile, Miatta Fanhbulleh has been rehearsing with Jimi Solanke as both of them will be on stage for the better part of Sunday event.

Fahnbulleh, according to her biography posted on allmusic.com, 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 favours 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 bagged a degree in Music and Drama from the American Music and 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 United States, then took part in the Festac Festivals. On his own, Solanke is part of the Nigerian culture, his interdisciplinary practice, embracing the literary, performing, dramatic and visual arts.

A theatre and film actor, playwright, poet, folk singer, dancer and choreographer, Solanke is also an accomplished guitarist and keyboardist, who asserts he did the first rap in the world. Indeed, it will be an unforgettable night of revelation and old school music.

Source: The Vanguard Newspaper

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About Cholo Brooks 13180 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.