In Memoriam: Tokay Tomah, Traditional African Vocalist and Pew Fellow

06 Dec 2017


Tokay Tomah, 2016 Pew Fellow. Photo by Ryan Collerd.

We are saddened by the news that Tokay Tomah, 2016 Pew Fellow, passed away on November 14, 2017. A celebrated singer, composer, and recording artist, Tomah dedicated her career to inspiring dialogue about critical issues facing Liberian immigrant communities.

As a singer and dancer with Liberia's National Cultural Troupe, Tomah toured throughout Liberia and internationally in the 1980s. During Liberia's civil war, she was active in peacebuilding and reconciliation work with the United Nations. In 2002, one of her compositions was chosen as the theme song for the Liberian Women's Peace Movement, led by Nobel Peace Prize-winner Leymah Gbowee.

“She will forever be remembered for her many contributions she made in bringing peace to Liberia,” said Kerkula Kamara, president of the Culture Union of Liberia, in a radio address, as reported by Front Page Africa.

After immigrating to the US in 2010, Tomah became a founding member of the Liberian Women's Chorus for Change, which includes a core group of Liberian singers and dancers: Pew Fellow Fatu Gayflor, as well as Marie Nyenabo, and Zaye Tete. The chorus adapts Liberian folk songs and creates new music in traditional styles, in an effort to generate collective strength and to offer resources for change for Philadelphia's Liberian community. “We’ll keep the songs and harmonies flowing, though, Tokay, with your laugh and your smile, and your love, in our hearts. We’ll be forever inspired by your example of courage and activism,” wrote members of the Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change in a tribute on Facebook.

Tomah was recently featured in the new documentary Because of the War, produced by the Philadelphia Folklore Project. The film follows members of the Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change as they use music to strengthen immigrant communities in Philadelphia.

Tomah received a Transformation Award (2014) and an Art and Change Grant (2013) from the Leeway Foundation.

>Read Tomah’s obituary in Music in Africa.