At Kwanzaa, sounds of drums and a trumpet

Dec. 30, 2013 @ 09:21 PM

Kwanzaa celebrates African-Americans’ connections to their homeland, and seeks to pass down African traditions to the next generation.

Monday, the fifth day of Kwanzaa, an audience at Holton Career and Resource Center heard how those connections continue to operate musically. During the ceremony, the audience heard traditional drumming, modern hip-hop, and some forward-thinking jazz.

Teli Shabu, a percussionist who teaches a class in traditional African drumming at Holton, introduced some members of his class, who performed for the audience.

“They work very hard,” Shabu said. “Durham, this is your children.”

Shabu also performed with The Magic of African Rhythm, an ensemble he directs that is made up of members of the Shabu family. They received rousing applause after their set, which included drums such as the djembe, djun djun, the sangban and the balan, which Shabu said is a forerunner to the xylophone.

The dance troupe ReMyx’d Couture, which is part of Holton’s dance program, presented what teacher and dancer Tamika Murrill called “the urban side of Kwanzaa,” through hip-hop. Kwanzaa celebrates the history and heritage of African-Americans and how they built on those traditions in this country, Murrill said.

“What we’re trying to do here at Holton is to showcase that,” she said.

The headliner guest was trumpeter Al Strong, co-founder of The Art of Cool Project. Strong – playing in a quartet that included electric bass, guitar and drums – put a different kind of stamp on a Kanye West tune.

Kwanzaa ceremonies always begin with the procession of the elders. Chuck Davis, director of the African American Dance Ensemble, led the ritual in which the elders in the audience give permission for the ceremony to begin. “It is said that youth will lead, [but] youth cannot lead without knowing,” and that knowledge comes from the elders, Davis said.

Zayd Malik Shakur, a poet and musician, hosted Monday’s ceremony, and explained the principles and symbols of Kwanzaa. He stressed the need to respect elders in a modern culture that reveres youth. 

Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga, now chairman of Africana Studies at California State University at Long Beach, in 1966, as a way for African-Americans to understand and celebrate their African heritage. It grew out of the civil rights and political movements of the 1960s.

Shakur said that while Kwanzaa grew out of needs in the black community, it was never intended to exclude anyone, and “it’s not a replacement for Christmas.”

Each day of the holiday represents a different principle. The seven principles are Umoja (unity), Kujichagulia (self-determination), Ujima (collective work and responsibility), Ujamaa (cooperative economics), Nia (purpose), Kuumba (creativity) and Imani (faith).

Durham Parks and Recreation presented Monday’s observance of Nia, or purpose.

The observance also included activities for children, and vendors selling African clothing.
Zelda Lockhart, a former Piedmont Laureate, and her daughter Alex had a table with several of her books for sale, and information about LaVenson Press Studios, a writing workshop she runs in Hillsborough.

“I always see a lot of people that I’ve taught,” Lockhart said of Kwanzaa events.

Before Monday’s celebration, Shabu was rehearsing with some of his students in the music room at Holton. Some of the musicians were students of Baba Kerr, who teaches drumming at St. Sya Academy in Durham. As they rehearsed, Kerr explained how each drum played a different rhythmic pattern. Some of the students start on drums as early as ages 3 to 5, Kerr said. “They practice for years to become proficient,” he said.

Kwanzaa continues through New Year’s Day.