EBENEZER CALENDER (1912-1985)
Ebenezer Calender was born in Freetown on the 19th of November 1912 to a Jamaican father and a Sierra Leonean mother. Having little or not too successful formal education, he became a qualified carpenter and was later employed by Pa Boungie, one of the undertakers in Kissy village where he grew up. Pa Boungie's company did not only produce coffins but also conducted wake-keeping ceremonies for bereaved families. It was during this time Ebenezer would be among the men Pa Boungie would send to sing at vigils.
This was how his music career started and as the demand for music increased during wake-keepings, he encouraged some of his friends to form a small musical group. As a versatile musician, he learned how to play instrumentals such as the trumpet, mandolin, cornet, and he also relied upon a combination of locally produced instruments like the "bata" (hand drum) and triangle. The addition of instruments like the rhythm guitar and tambourine gave him his distinctive Maringa rhythm. They practiced in the open fields and on-lookers gave them money. His small musical group later became known as Ebenezer Calender and his Maringa Band. Although this was all part-time for Calender, the group received invitations to perform at parties, weddings, picnics, carnivals and other festive occasions. It was during this period that he gave up his day job as a coffin-maker and embarked on a full-time musical career.
Listen to: Faya Faya (original recording).
His early songs formed part of the dance music of the 1950s and 60s in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Most of his compatriots will remember the swinging rhythm of the hit song "Faya Faya". The text is a mixture of pidgin and English, a typical style of Sierra Leone composers during that period. Over the years, "Faya Faya" has become one of Sierra Leone's most popular and favourite folk songs. It is a love song about a young man named 'Faya' who wants to see the love of his life. Like many cultures, children are given names according to their position in the family, especially firstborns. In the Kono tribe of Sierra Leone, the name of the firstborn son is 'Faya'.
As he grew older, his music became more philosophical, and he began to consider himself more as a teacher with the responsibility of imparting the lessons he gained from life to a younger generation. Ebenezer Calender was a cultural musician, historian and social commentator who used his popular Maringa music to entertain and educate his fellow countrymen. When he died in 1985, music groups from all over Freetown converged at his home at the foot of Mount Aureol and played his songs continuously for twenty-four hours. Thousands gathered to remember the man they all loved and admired.
Bonnie's arrangement of Calender's hit song "Faya Faya" for various ensembles has given the song a new birth and a place in the heart of its listeners.
Bonnie has been doing his best to bring the music of Sierra Leone into the forefront by notating and arranging folk songs for various ensembles. His arrangement of Faya Faya for SATB and piano has given the song a new beginning and a place in heart of its listeners.
Also in 2006, as part of the School Brass Band Competition in Freetown, Bonnie organized a trumpet solo competition together with the Ballanta Academy of Music, where he commissioned 'Faya Faya' - a theme and variation for Bb Trumpet as the contest piece. This new genre of the popular folk tune has made a lasting impression in the hearts of young brass players in Freetown.
Bonnie is about to publish a book, "It's Time to Play Piano" - a collection of popular nursery rhymes, classical pieces, folk songs and pop songs for children / beginners on the piano - "Faya Faya" and other popular folk songs of Sierra Leone have been included in the compilation.