Music

Celebrating Kwanzaa: 7 Principles to Honor African Heritage by RoundGlass Music

Celebrating Kwanzaa: 7 Principles to Honor African Heritage by RoundGlass Music

Since Kwanzaa was celebrated a few days ago, let’s dig into the history and look at how music is deeply entwined with the holiday! Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. After the Watts Uprising in 1966, Dr. Karenga wanted to find build ways to connect the black community in America.  

Since Kwanzaa was celebrated a few days ago, let’s dig into the history and look at how music is deeply entwined with the holiday! Kwanzaa was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga, a professor and chairman of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach. After the Watts Uprising in 1966, Dr. Karenga wanted to find build ways to connect the black community in America.

The Watts Uprising, also known as the Watts riots or Watts rebellion, was a period of six days of unrest and violence centered in the predominantly black Watts neighborhood in Los Angeles. While it was sparked by a confrontation between California Highway Patrol and two stepbrothers they pulled over, the uprising is better understood as the result of long building dissatisfaction over living conditions, segregation, lack of opportunities, and long-standing abuse of residents by the police. It was hardly an isolated event, there were similar uprisings in Rochester, Harlem, Bed-Stuy, and Chicago among other places around the same period. Such violent uprisings often accompany periods where civil rights are fought for, such as in the 1910s, in the 1960s, and starting in Ferguson in the 2000s.

In his own words, Dr. Karenga created the holiday to unite the black community and to “give blacks an alternative to the existing holiday of Christmas and give blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Though many families celebrate Kwanzaa and Christmas, Kwanzaa allowed for a unique celebration disconnected from the pressure to assimilate.

Dr. Karenga was a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 60s and 70s and he felt that it was necessary to have a cultural revolution before a violent revolution. I.e., A violent revolution will fail if the people have no sense of identity, purpose, or direction.

The name ‘Kwanzaa’ derives from the Swahili phrase ‘matunda ya kwanza’ which means ‘first fruits.’ This is a reference to the first fruit festivals that exist across many cultures in southern Africa. The first fruit festivals are celebrated around the time of the winter solstice and focus around ceremonially giving the first fruits of a harvest to the god or gods responsible for that harvest. It is a unifying celebration that unites the people and is celebrated with merrymaking with fears of famine behind them.

Dr. Karenga added an extra ‘a’ to kwanza, to give the word a symbolic seven letters, that reflected the seven principles and seven days of the holiday. Though created in California the holiday has since spread across the United States and to many other countries across the globe.

The holiday is centered around seven principles, each one focused on a different night of the seven-day holiday. Umoja, or unity is the first day, followed by Kujichagulia, or self-determination, then Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity), and finally Imani, meaning faith. The seven principles predate the holiday by a year. Their names are in Swahili, and they represent a synthesis of pan-African and socialist values.

It’s common to share libations from a common cup known as a Kikombe cha Umoja. Kwanzaa celebrations differ from family to family but often center around food, poetry, storytelling, decorations, and of course music. Music is such a central feature of African heritage that it’s not surprising it’s also a key aspect of Kwanzaa celebrations. This often takes the shape of songs, dancing, and drumming often played by family members themselves. But if you have no music virtuosos in your family that’s no reason not to have Kwanzaa music filling your household, and this mix will do just that. A mix of traditional music, modern Kwanzaa songs, and some contemporary R&B to round it out. Hopefully, you had a truly joyous Kwanzaa!