On Kwanzaa

As an African American who went to CSULB, taking Black Studies classes while Dr. Maulana Karenga was still chair of the department, I have an ocean depth of respect for Dr. Karenga, creator of Kwanzaa. I have such respect for the precious principles that Kwanzaa embodies.

Some say you should not mix the Kwanzaa holiday or its symbols, values and practice with any other culture, as this would violate the principle of Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday. But I believe the integrity of this complex and sacred holiday is in perpetual jeopardy so long as individuals seek to prevent it from ever taking on the extraordinarily meaningful existence it could have if it were integrated into “the world.”  I love Kwanzaa. On several occasions, I have performed two choral works I composed called “Umoja” and Kujichagulia” based on the principles of Kwanzaa (I’m planning to finish the set one day).  I’ve loved these pieces, and so have the singers that sang them. Through these works, I believe singers and audience feel more personally connected to the spirit of the holiday, and therefore the holiday is more sincerely admired and cherished – this is important to me. Also, Kwanzaa principles are valuable to remember year-round, which makes Kwanzaa music potentially viable for year-round performances at concerts, festivals, sacred services, conferences, etc.

kwanzaa and musicThrough music, Kwanzaa could teach so much to our children and to our audiences in general. But Kwanzaa seems so stuck in an intellectual wasteland, guarded by a small number of folk who refuse to let it have a life of it’s own. Let it be integrated into the real world where Christmas and Hanukkah and other winter celebrations enrich many lives as they exist simultaneously. These holidays bring us closer together and make us appreciate each other more – who wouldn’t want that? Without cultural expressions of Kwanzaa through music and art, in conjunction with other winter celebrations, through performances and media that can reach into schools and churches and concert halls and homes, in my opinion this precious holiday remains impotent with its principles unappreciated and unknown.

This post was originally published on ChoralNet, the online bulletin board system for the American Choral Directors Association.  Thanks to ACDA for their help in retrieving the post for this blog.