The Minnesota History Center’s annual Kwanzaa celebration held the day after Christmas featured music, African dance and drums, storytelling, a fashion show, craft activities, and other family-friendly activities. The program included a children’s activity of making a Unity cube, a collage utilizing the seven principles of Kwanzaa as a design springboard, to color and collage a visual “voice of unity” art project to take home was lead by St. Paul artist Ta-Coumba T. Aiken. Beverly Cottman “Auntie Beverly” held the audience captive with her storytelling of folk heroes and cultural tricksters with songs, hand motions, and lively call and response.
African Global Roots presented Fashion Showcase, emceed by spoken word artist IBé Kaba, an ingathering and celebration included music, singing, drumming, guitar and flute playing, a fashion show, and spoken word. The high-energy Tiyumba Dance Company with Ghana-born lead dancer, Fatawu Sayibu, and toupe, featured high energy dancing, drumming, and singing that tells the stories of West Africa.
Kwanzaa, “matunda ya Kwanza,” means festival of “first fruits” in Swahili, the most widely spoken African language, celebrated from December 16 to January 1 was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga in 1966 as an African American and Pan-African holiday which celebrates family, community, and culture. Its origins are in the first harvest celebrations of Africa which date back to ancient Egypt and Nubia.
This article covers the part of the program, Fashion Showcase, sponsored by African Global Roots (AGR). AGR is dedicated to nurturing artistic and professional development for the diverse African, Afro-diasporic, and non-African communities in Minnesota. Spoken word artist Ibrahim Kaba (IBé), the program’s host is AGR’s program director, an Africanist, activist, writer, manager of the Meet the Author series, father, and spoken word poet who has graced both large and small stages from Minnesota to New York. IBé, from Guinea, by way of Sierra Leone, has been in the U.S. for over 18 years, 15 of those in Minnesota. IBé believes that since African art was first in the world, it’s time to reclaim, embrace, and proudly continue to create our own art. IBé can be reached at email@example.com and his website is www.atlanticrock.com
IBé spoke of new beginnings and being thankful for what God has given us over the last year, not just during the holidays. While he couldn’t remember the exact wording of the seven principles of Kwanzaa, he knew them in his heart stressing the importance of unity and ingathering, remembering and becoming clear about who you are, and taking time for creativity with style.
Ousmane Sy, from Senegal, with Minnesotan born friend Quentin Fleming, sang three songs and played the guitar and drums. The first song “Mon Beau Village” (My Beautiful Village”) a song of gentle beauty that he sang with enthusiasm and soulfulness is about Dgemdera, a small Senegalese village, nostalgic for Ousmane. “Who We Are” followed, chosen for its bouncy beat that sounds best with the djembe drum that Ousmane commanded.
The song was written and sang by Quentin, is about the American way that Quentin sees as “fast
paced” which he doesn’t necessarily embrace, but he feels “it’s alright as long as one enjoys life.”
“Under Pound,” name of a group Ousmane performs with, written and sang by Ousmane, is a reggae song about “me as an artist, my Senegalese roots, and how I experience music. The song in his native tongue with a bit of rap in English, represents the unity of being African and living and embracing the American way of life. Ousmane can be reached at ousmane_SY_brin@yahoo.fr
IBé introduced BothDol Fashion the brainchild of multi-talented Eli Nyamal Dol as a remix of fashion, contemporary with traditional.
Nyamal, a 23-year old Fashionista or as she calls herself “over fashionista,” is also a model, mother, and college student. She is Minnesota’s Twin City Top Model for 09/10, Minnesota’s Face of Africa and running contestant for Miss Model International 2011. For her, “being driven is a part of the journey.” Her runway designs mix African textiles with bold silhouettes were presented in two sets, the first was a mixture of layers, mostly in grey, black, tan, with skirts, leggings, shawls, scarves and belted, interspersed with a few brighter bold long flowing fashions. The second set was definitely the talk of the town as it featured the night on the town side of the show with long flowing creations and included men’s fashion.
Her designs tend to be futuristic, on top of latest trends, and have been showcased on the East Coast. She creates evening gowns for special occasions and organizers of events, as well as work with pageants on their evening gown segment.
Christian Yao Adeti, founder and artistic director of Titambe West African Dance Ensemble www.titambedancegroup.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, renowned drum and dance instructor/performer, brought the sounds of West Africa, Ghana by way of New Guinea, got the audience going with the energy of thunderous drums, even the flute he played softly, playfully, sweetly, mimicked his lively, playful expressions. Christian’s aptitude and love of drums was evident as he interchangeably played his three drums as the audience clapped to the fast strong rhythmic pace. “I believe that with traditional dance and drum we can gently unlock the ancestral vibration that has been covered for centuries, which involves peace, love, and unity.” Christian is truly an entertainer and definitely the perfect complement to IBé as he recited his spoken word.
IBé’s artistry with words graced the room full of columns, high ceiling and breathtaking view of downtown St. Paul was the perfect backdrop to his kingly performance. “Let the beat beat, Let the feet stomp, Let the hands clap, Let the heads bop, Sing it with word, Mix it with pray, For only we know, There is a thin line, Between God and man” from his spoken word “Dance” speaks to the dance of life, mixing play and pray, hope, words and dancing with grounding reflected in “For only we know, a single drop of water, can save a dying man.” “Amazing Grace” his second reflects IBé’s own life which is everyone’s life, “We are the impossible made possible.” “Indeed Grace is amazing, When they say impossible, Tell them “I’m possible.” When people tell you, you are not as good as you are, tell them to stop, tell them no.
One of seventeen children, he couldn’t do numbers, didn’t speak till he was three, but now he writes and gets paid for it. We are angels in transition, more than body, more than feelings, more than four fingers and two thumbs, we make it possible, we are the spark, the light, kings and queens, and gods. “Amazing Grace” tells us, “We are all things made possible.”
African Global Roots’ Fashion Showcase was so much more than fashion; it was Dr. Maulana Karenga’s ideology of Kwanzaa. It was an ingathering, a festive commemoration celebration that showed reverence for what each of us is given in our creative gifts and for creation and reminded all that recommitment to bring the best of African culture into the world we live in is what Kwanzaa and life is all about. The seven principles of Kwanzaa that holds all of us to a higher standard, through unity, self determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity and faith all resounded brightly and fully throughout the day! To African Global Roots and Executive Director Petros Haile, whatever your goal was for the day, you definitely surpassed it!
Five fundamental activities of African “first fruit” Kwanzaa celebrations:
Ingathering: A time for people to get together and reaffirm the bonds between them.
Reverence: For the creator and creation in thanks and respect for the blessings, bountifulness and beauty of creation.
Commemoration: Of the past in pursuit of its lessons and in honor of its models of human excellence, our ancestors.
Recommitment: To our highest cultural ideals in our ongoing effort to always bring forth the best of African cultural thought and practice; and
Celebration: Of the Good, the good of life and of existence itself, the good of family, community and culture, the good of the awesome and the ordinary, in a word the good of the divine, natural and social.
Seven principles for each of the seven days:
Umoja (Unity): To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves.
Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.
Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
The models were:
Edwina Bombo ……………….Liberia
Penny Masuku…………South Africa