PhillyFolk Artists

Fatu Gayflor

Liberian Singer and Dancer

Fatu Gayflor started to sing in her home village of Kakata in northwestern Liberia. Her mother sang around the home, “when she was happy,” and Ms. Gayflor became a singer early. A member of the Lorma ethnic group, she received instruction in ritual and songs and in playing the sasa (sekere) as part of the Sande society as a young girl. In 1978, a woman from the Liberian National Cultural Troupe—a dance and music performance ensemble who was touring the country to find new talent—was impressed with the 12-year-old Ms. Gayflor and recruited her to come to Keneja, the national art village and home of the National Troupe. There, she studied traditional praise songs, wedding songs, laments, and so on. She learned songs from 16 ethnic groups across Liberia, and became a lead singer for the Troupe. Her talents led to her selection to come to the United States with the Troupe to perform at the Louisiana World Fair in 1984.

She recorded her first two albums in Liberia, singing traditional songs with both local and imported instruments to appeal to younger Liberians. Her third recording was made in the Ivory Coast, where she lived for a while in a refugee camp following the eruption of the civil war in Liberia. In that recording, guitars and synthesizers are used as well, because the producers in the Ivory Coast wanted to give the traditional melodies a world beat sound. These records are widely known and beloved among dispersed Liberian communities. In Liberia, Ms. Gayflor was known as “Princess Fatu Gayflor, the golden voice of Liberia.”

Having also lived in the Ivory Coast and in Guinea as a refugee, she sings traditional songs of many places. Now a resident of the U.S., she performs for Liberian ceremonies and celebrations in North America, both independently and as a founding member of the Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change.

Ms. Gayflor was the subject of “African Song / New Contexts” in the Winter 2007 issues of Works in Progress and was featured in PFP’s 2007 exhibition All That We Do. She has performed in the Folklore Project’s Philly Dance Africa program and taught at the Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School through the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts/Arts in Education program. Most recently, she was one of the stars of the PFP produced documentary Because of the War, in which she shares the story of her life in Liberia and America and how she has used music as a tool for social change.