Teli runs kids' drum circle at KwanzaaFest 2014

Teli runs kids’ drum circle at KwanzaaFest 2014

“This was the best Kwanzaa season yet!” my husband Teli beamed after returning home from an evening at Holton Resource and Career Center. I too felt the totality of the holiday. The Magic of African Rhythm wore many hats during the week-long celebration.

Since moving to NC in 2003, the Hayti Heritage Center has remained my foundation of black culture in Durham, given its history.  I can’t imagine Kwanzaa without an event at the Hayti. It was an honor to step up as the organizer of their annual Hayti Heritage Kwanzaa celebration but mainly to serve my community and see the joy on their faces.

Known in the community as “Baba Teli”,  led the drummers and the procession of elders guided by Baba Chuck Davis at Holton’s Kwanzaa celebration. Unlike last year where both Teli and I performed while sick with the flu last Kwanzaa season, it was pure joy to watch Teli on stage this year. As the duo Balankora, Teli played kora and his sister Mabinti Shabu played  balaphon, both traditional griot instruments. Griots are the name for oral historians in Francophone Africa. But the highlight was when jazz trumpeter and arranger Al Strong invited Teli on stage, calling him “one of the baddest drummers I know”.

Teli putting head on a djembe

Teli putting head on a djembe

Every year, the seven-day Kwanzaa celebration culminates at the Durham Armory with KwanzaaFest hosted again by Baba Chuck Davis and The African American Dance Ensemble. Ezibu Muntu, a Virginia-based dance and drum ensemble, raised the roof off the armory this year. Their ranks have swelled with new hungry young drummers powering the dancers’ feet. Teli and I were in our glory. This time not as organizers or performers, but as a vendors. Teli had just released Balankora’s first album, not quite an EP, just three songs, but potent enough to call it “One Dose”. Our son Delacey was invaluable help that final day arranging our business cards, cds and a listening station. The Magic of African Rhythm also had an assortment of different shaped and sized mbiras for sale. Mbiras are commonly known as thumb pianos. Teli hand-makes these music boxes and has even customized them for child-sized hands as well because anyone can make these instruments sing.

My friends’ mother from California has been celebrating Kwanzaa for over 30 years. She shared with us the first traditions of families coming over to one another’s homes and sharing a feast (karamu). Our cohort of seven or so families have been honoring this part of Kwanzaa’s tradition for the past five years. Each family hosts a night and it’s accompanying Nguzo Saba, or Kwanzaa Principle. Ujima [Collective Works and Responsibility] was our night. We crowded around the kinara lit with flaming candles as we sang “Oh, oh oh. Joy has come to the earth today. Let’s celebrate. Our heritage. Our togetherness.”

Mabinti practicing balaphon for Kwanzaa

Mabinti practicing balaphon for Kwanzaa

“This was the best Kwanzaa season yet!” I agreed  with Teli and thought about the fullness of our lives this past year. As a family we had completed a 10 week no- sugar candida diet. As a couple we had fasted during the Winter Solstice. My yoga practice has been disciplined and I have more peace in my life as a result. And Teli was still riding the high from his 2013-2014 Emerging Artist Grant Award. We closed out 2014 with a lot to be thankful for.

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