Hip hop and Kwanzaa bring the holidays to ‘life’
By Phreddy Wischusen
The Michigan Citizen
Although the Nguzo Saba (seven principles) of Kwanzaa may be unfamiliar to some families in Michigan, hip hop artist Khary Frazier has celebrated the holiday his entire life. Attending an African-centered school, Aisha Shule, reinforced his family’s tradition within a broader cultural context.
In 2007, Frazier decided to share his familial and cultural heritage with a wider audience. “I just thought Kwanzaa would be a great platform to support Black-owned restaurants and a good opportunity for Black-owned restaurants to support local artists.” He and his band, General Population, organized a Kwanzaa party at the Woodward restaurant in the Compuware building, believing — in the same way Americans seek out Irish pubs on St. Patrick’s Day (and thereby building wealth for those establishments) — people should seek out Black-owned businesses during Kwanzaa.
Over a hundred guests gathered to enjoy music, food and to learn more about the value-based holiday. Councilwoman JoAnn Watson and Judge Claudia Morcomm addressed the crowd.
Frazier’s event, now annual, has grown in attendance and notoriety over the years. In 2009, one of Frazier’s mentors, renowned event coodinator Njai Kai, helped grow the event into the Charles Wright Museum of African American History, where it continues to be held today.
This year, the celebration will take place Dec. 29 from 5-8 p.m. Its theme, “Our Culture is Our Life,” is inspired by the Ujamaa (cooperative economic) principle, though Frazier assured the Michigan Citizen the one-day event would encompass elements from Kwanzaa’s six other principles (see the Michigan Citizen’s Dec. 22 article, “Kwanzaa celebrates culture not commerce”). “This event will be centered in artistry,” promises Frazier, “an eclectic blend of music, fashion, visual art, photography and Detroit.”
The evening will begin with a presentation of visual art from actor/writer/painter Devin Laster and a performance by Timbuktu Academy’s African drummers. Elizabeth Whittaker of Nsoroma will then offer the libations — not Jack Daniels-spiked egg nog, but a ceremonial watering inviting the ancestors to participate in the growth of the present and future. An African fashion show from Sanoka Arts, discussion of the Nguzo Saba, and live performance from Frazier and a five-piece band (Stephanie Thorton, vocalist; Djallo Djakate, drums; Phil Hale, keys; Daniel Steights, bass; and Drummer B, the DJ) rounds out the evening’s activities. Taste of Ethiopia will serve African cuisine — hot and delicious — complimentary to attendees.
Families with children are encouraged to attend the celebration. Because Kwanzaa is value-based, parents and children often relate to the holiday differently than families do in American-style Christmas experiences. During Kwanzaa, parents try to impart knowledge of what can be complex principles to even very young children. “There is a way as a parent you’re challenging yourself to present that (information) to a child,” Frazier says. “And in addition, you are challenging yourself to continue to model those principles in your own life.”