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Baltimore Kwanzaa Celebration Highlights Traditions New And Old

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The Sankofna Dance Theater performs some traditional African drum beats.
Reginald F. Lewis Museum
The Sankofna Dance Theater performs some traditional African drum beats.

People came together in Baltimore Saturday to celebrate and learn about Kwanzaa. The celebration at Baltimore's Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture included discussion, storytelling, a children's workshop, dance and music.

People have celebrated the African American and Pan-African holiday Kwanzaa for more than 40 years. Maulana Karenga is professor and chair of Africana Studies at California State University. He says there are a few reasons why he created Kwanzaa back in 1966.

"Part of our liberation struggle in the 60s was to return to our culture, to speak our own special culture too, and make our own unique contribution to how this society is reconceived and reconstructed," Karenga says. "Second, I created Kwanzaa to give us a time when we as African people all over the world could come together, reaffirm the bonds between us and meditate on the awesome meaning of being African in the world and to celebrate ourselves in beautiful, dignity-affirming and life-enhancing way."

He says he created Kwanzaa in order to introduce and reaffirm seven values that stress and strengthen family, community and culture.

A big part of the celebration is also musical. Professional beatboxer and vocal percussionist Shodekeh, performed alongside drummers from Sankofa Dance Theater.

Shodekeh says that, in a way, practitioners of West African drumming are the keepers of an older tradition. But even though beatboxing is a newer mode of expression, he says vocal percussion has always existed in some form throughout human history and music. He says the musical styles work really well together.

"Sometimes the echoes of the sounds that emit from the voice into the microphone bounces back, hits the floor, travels through the hollow entry point of the djembe, and then sometimes it'll come through the head of the djembe and this is a really beautiful feedback loop sometimes that happens," Shodekeh says.

On Wednesday, the last day of Kwanzaa, practitioners will light all seven candles and meditate on the principle of Imani, Swahili for faith.

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