Nineteen (19) years ago, Sierra Leone’s Reggae legend Amara Kabba was pronounced dead after a swimming incident in Lumley Beach, Freetown. What could have been a short and memorable visit to his homeland after twelve years turned into a tragic and unforgettable moment for his family, fans, and friends. Regarded as Sierra Leone’s greatest reggae musician, Amara Kabba didn’t only inspire his fellow countrymen and women, but also the whole of Africa and beyond.
Born in 1962, in Makeni, Northern Sierra Leone, to a Madingo father and a temne mother, Amara Kabba was the second son of the three sons of accordion player Pa Kabba. Amara Kabba and his brothers grew up with their father who was a music composer and a folk singer. His elder brother Nfagi Kabba was also a musician and was inspired by their late father. The three sons lost their parents at a very young age. The death of their parents negatively affected Amara Kabba and his brothers, which led them to drop out of school and focus on music.
After the death of their parents, Amara Kabba used music as therapy and a place where he found solace. He joined the Rockers Group as a guitarist and singer. Amara Kabba and the Rockers Group performed on various occasions and functions before he joined the Sierra Afric Dance Band. He released his first single ‘Eastern Paddle’ under the Band, which went on to become the country’s number one hit song at that time. Amara developed his musical skills and became more intelligent in his delivery and composure. Amara Kabba left Freetown for Conakry, Guinea where played alongside South African musician Bongi Makeba and the legendary Miriam Makeba. Amara Kabba spent a few days in Conakry, Guinea before his return to Freetown, Sierra Leone. On his return to Freetown, Amara Kabba and his elder brother Nfagi Kabba formed a musical group called the Kabba Brothers, in the 1980s. The Kabba Brothers recorded over six albums, which took them to the center stage. Their first album ‘Chest Pain’ which had popular songs like ‘Tamareneh’ and ‘Lef Bad Heart’. The Kabba Brothers were invited to perform in London at the Summer Afro-Reggae concert. The Kabba Brothers made waves from 1980 – the 1990s.
After a successful stint with the Kabba Brothers, Amara Kabba went solo. He left London for Amsterdam after their successful concert at the Summer Afro-Reggae. In Amsterdam, Holland, Amara Kabba studied Music and Recording Engineering. He started recording reggae songs instead of his usual traditional goombay songs. He founded the Shain Band whilst in Holland. Amara Kabba started doing live band performances in Amsterdam. In 1994, Amara Kabba had a relationship with a Dutch woman named Anne Marie Tiebosh. In Holland, after completing his studies in Music and Recording Engineering, he released one of the greatest Sierra Leonean reggae albums, ‘Confront It’. He had wanted to launch his album ‘Confront It’ in his homeland, Sierra Leone after he had launched it at the Dutch Pop Institute in Amsterdam. The eight-track album contains tracks such as ‘Confront it, Calling, Lady on the road, I feel your love, Two to tangle, Sunshine, Conqueror, and Waiting.’ Amara recorded and produced the album in his apartment in Amsterdam, Holland.
May 2003, Amara Kabba left Holland for Freetown after twelve years. After two weeks in Freetown, his wife Anne Marie and his daughter Khadija arrived in Freetown. At that time, Anne Marie was pregnant with their second child Amara Shine Kabba.
Sunday, June 22, 2003, Amara and his wife hosted a mini beach party with his longtime friends, fans, and family members as what they called a ‘reunion’.
We were having fun with friends and fans of Amara. We gave drinks and food to everyone. Amara was seated on the rock playing his music with his guitar. Everyone else was singing and dancing with him. After few performances, Amara asked me to go swimming. I refused because I couldn’t swim. I was pregnant and also had 4 years old Khadija with me. Amara and a friend eventually went into the water to swim. After some time, i heard Amara crying for help. He was trying to keep his head up. The boys playing football at the beach went to help him out, but he had already drunk too much water.Wife of Amara Kabba, Anne Marie Kabba narrating the death of his late husband.
Amara Kabba was rescued and taken to the hospital. But little did they know he won’t make it. His wife, Anne Marie Kabba was told by the doctor to go home and rest as his husband would be taken care of. Anne Marie Kabba went home as per the doctor’s instruction. The following morning, she went to visit his husband at the hospital where he was taken to, she headed to her husband’s hospital bed but she couldn’t find him there. The doctor came and told her that her husband, Amara Kabba, Sierra Leone’s greatest reggae artist, had died.
It was devastating! But I had to be strong. His songs started playing all over again and again, in taxis, radio, etc. People were saying good things about him.Anne Marie Kabba on Salone Jamboree
Proceeds from his ‘Confront It’ album was used to complete Amara Kabba’s studio in Amsterdam, Holland. Amara Kabba pre-recorded many songs that he couldn’t release. His wife, Anne Marie Kabba, and his two daughters had released almost all of Amara’s unreleased songs.
Following the death of his husband, Anne Marie Kabba founded the Shain Foundation to honor, protect, and promote the legacy of Amara Kabba, which Amara Kabba had wanted. “Shain was the band founded by Amara, and we want to maintain his legacy,” Anne Marie Kabba told Salone Jamboree. The Shain Foundation was named after the ‘Shain Band’ a band founded by Amara Kabba. In place of that, the Shain Foundation annually holds a musical concert to commemorate and celebrate the life of the legend Amara Kabba.
Amara Kabba’s musical composure, intelligent delivery, meticulous and conscious lyrics, brought unbridled joy to people listening to his songs. Had it not been for death, he could have been one of the greatest reggae musicians ever. But as death doesn’t know boundaries, Amara Kabba wasn’t immune. Today, we celebrate a legacy worthwhile to celebrate. To a man whose passion for music unearth an immeasurable talent, we say LIVE ON, LEGEND ✊🏿