Producer, Vocalist, Spoken Word Artist, Educator, Production Coordinator, Collector
Tell us a little about your background...
Mwanza Furaha is a gifted vocalist, actor, dancer, producer, instructor, and all-around entertainer. She has established herself as a skilled professional in a career that has spanned over 50 plus years. Raised in a small town in rural Texas, Mwanza's family moved to San Francisco when she was 10 years old (she now claims the Bay Area as her permanent home). During her earlier years, she nurtured her creative skills through talent shows at school and the Baptist Church youth choir. By age 13, Mwanza was already working throughout the Bay Area with a group of friends known as the Young Troopers. With the support of several teachers, they soon changed their name to the Duncan Company and began touring the states of California, Oregon and Washington State for the next seventeen years. She got her first experience with marketing with the Duncan Company and became aware of the popular term 'triple threat'. She branched out to make new connections in the music world. She got an offer to audition for The Apollo's, a female trio under contract with Warner Bros. Records. She got the job and they opened for Billy Eckstine on a tour of Texas Country Clubs. They later did a tour in the Orient and in Tucson, Arizona. She performed at the Berkeley Jazz Festival with the band Snakepit. She has shared the stage singing and acting with many famous legends/artists, Richard 'Groove' Holmes, Pharaoh Sanders, Bags Costello, Norman Bishop Williams, Merle Saunders, Maya Angelou, Betty Carter, Carmen McRae, Esther Phillips, Lou Rawls, Harold Nicholas of the Nicholas Brothers, Charli Persip, and Sun Ra, to mention a few. Mwanza has worked in several countries including Canada, Mexico, China, Japan, and the Philippine Islands.
In the 70's and 80's, Mwanza taught acting, body conditioning, and stage presence classes at the Oakland Ensemble Theater, the San Francisco Neighborhood Arts Program and the YMCA.
In March of '82 Mwanza relocated to Seattle, Washington, where along with her singing gigs, she was an acting coach/choreographer at both Franklin High School and the Southeast Youth Services Bureau. She was offered and accepted a position as a journalist for a local publication, "The Facts". She would attend various theatrical and music venues then write a review that was published in the Entertainment Section weekly.
Mwanza returned to the Bay Area in '84 and worked private venues for the most part. In 1991 formed her own company, ADMM FAPA Enterprises (Artists Development, Management, Marketing of Fine & Performing Arts) and she produced, co-produced several projects with New Traditions Theater Company. She was then asked on short notice if she could come up with a project and entertainers to perform at a Black History Program for a group named "The Northern Nevada Black Awareness Society of Reno, Nevada. This was the beginning of a nine-year relationship. The job expanded to include the Juneteenth Festival Celebration as well. She became PR/Marketing Rep for the Bay Area Friends of the Schomburg and because of her excellent work was invited to New York for the dedication of a new wing at the Schomburg Center. She was then recommended for a position to assist the Director of the San Francisco Historical Society and did such an outstanding job, she was asked to be on the Public Relations Committee along with Belva Davis for the city of San Francisco’s new state of the art library.
From 1995 to 2001, Mwanza worked consistently as an actor, singer, technical person, the box office, the concessions area and the business office at the Lorraine Hansberry Theatre, downtown San Francisco. Some of her theatrical, television & film credits include; Blacks, Blues, Black (Maya Angelou); The Belva Davis Show, Love At First Bite, Bullet, Mr. Windfall, Space Is The Place (Sun Ra), Cotton Club Revue, Stompin' At The Savoy (Harold Nichols). The Amen Corner, Purlie, Take A Giant Step, Tambourines To Glory, One Mo' Time, Zooman & The Sign, Your Arms To Short To Box With God, MonkNBud, Waiting To Be Invited, and Metal (premiered/Mill Valley Film Festival). She performed with The Fringe Marin Players and 11/07 joined Bay Area Repertory Theatre Company. She was an actor and the costume person for the production Steal Away.
Mwanza was a featured vocalist weekly at the Two Bird Cafe at the Valley Inn in San Geronimo from 11/03 to 4/05. Featured at the Tree House Sol Fest, the Back To Fifty's Festival in Tikilma & Grants Pass, Oregon and with Dr. Ross in Selma, Oregon. She performs at the St Mary's Catholic Church Annual Benefit Concert and the San Francisco Bay View Music Festival yearly. She has worked with two Southern California based venues, the National Medical Fellowships Gala Luncheon/Palace Hotel. San Francisco (6/3/06) and the San Dimas Family Musical Festival (6/25/06). Vocalist with Dr. Jazz at John Lee Hooker's famed Boom Boom Room (8/06-2/07), the Lucky Otis Band, and the Red Hot Chachkas (she even sings a couple of songs in Yiddish). Until recently, she had been a featured vocalist with The San Francisco Medicine Ball Band performing at Caffe Trieste (Sausalito & Berkeley), the Sausalito Cruising Club and several other hot nightspots in the Bay Area. She is also a featured vocalist along with Lady Bianca with the Plymouth United Church of Christ choir, she is on the Church Council co-chairing The Concert Production Ministry (and other entertainment venues), and is the lead vocalist for Sacred Ground (a band with a purpose).
She was a member of the International Association of Jazz Education (IAJE - went out of business in 2008) and teaches voice and performance development in her home studio. She wears the hat as producer for a new play titled, "Abysinnian Nights", based on Solomon Songs in the Old Testament Bible and is in rehearsals with the acclaimed Activist/Poet/Writer Dona (La Tigresa) Nieto for a new two woman show titled, "The Lady and The Tiger", a two woman earth-friendly musical comedy revue. Both projects are tentatively scheduled to open in 2009. She is working with WAY Films, operating out of Louisiana and California. "The Light Is Still On" wrapped at the end of November 2008. Mwanza doubled as an actor and the wardrobe person for the film.
Baum Biem, music critic for the Marin Scope's/The Music Scene (6/5-11/08), wrote. "The heavy hitting Mwanza Furaha sings with a powerful but sublime voice that lifts each song above the ordinary. Her laconic improvisations give "Georgia on My Mind" a Cab Calloway feeling, which blend with the mood here as the sun sets over the bay. She sings "My Funny Valentine" with a Samba beat, adding little scat sections that are applauded by the audience."
Along with her many artistic talents, Mwanza is an Ambassador for the America Heart Association and is currently can be seen on Billboards throughout the Bay Area as part of the ad compaign; a San Geronimo Valley Lion and volunteers as a singer for San Francisco's Project Homeless Connect.
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Jaijai, what a wonderful mission you've undertaken to create such a place for artistic minds to meet and share their hearts. A place to renew faded determinations, and revive lessened momentums. A place to display our wares and reconfirm to one another that we actually are on the right track.
I commend you, Jaijai, for caring so much that you created this castle of the heart for all of us. I want to share my praise for all of the new friends as well as old friends that I've met and will meet here in our castle. Here we can garnish the where-with-all, the strength, the conviction, and the selflessness through our symbiosis, to share our gift to the world with an unbiased agenda.
My mentor, Daisaku Ikeda says of art: "A beautiful flower delights and refreshes the hearts of all people equally, no matter what soil it grows in. That is the power of beauty. The same is true of great art. It is this spirit that the German poet Heinrich Heine sang of when he wrote that once the peapod bursts open, the sugar peas inside are for everyone to enjoy."