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Music, performance will bring African culture to life in Kwanzaa Celebration

After having to cancel last year due to the pandemic, the annual Kwanzaa Celebration returns Wednesday.

Honoring the African heritage celebration through performances, art, food, clothing and artifacts remains the focus, according to Bakari Sanyu, director of the Sankofa Collective, a nonprofit organization aimed at providing education about African culture.

"Each and every year, our Kwanzaa programs are always culturally focused. That is our intention."

Running from Dec. 26 to Jan. 1, Kwanzaa is a weeklong celebration of African heritage that recognizes the nguzo saba, or seven principles of unity, faith, creativity, collective work and responsibility, purpose, self-determination, and cooperative economics.

Most celebrations are community focused with family-centered activities to allow for the greatest level of engagement.

This year's performances include Eyo, the Stilt Walker. Stilt walkers are known as moko jumbie, a term from the Caribbean islands ("moko" meaning healer and "jumbie" being slang for a ghost or spirit).

"They have used that tradition for years," Sanyu said. "It's something that is unique. You see that typically in a lot of the Kwanzaa celebrations all around the USA."

The Teye Sa Thiosanne Drum & Dance Company will also perform and someone will read African folktales. 

There will also be a display featuring work from Sanyu's Harambee Art Gallery, which has more than 80 pieces that he has collected across the United States over the course of 40-plus years. 

Sanyu also helps gather community contributions from those who want to share pieces of their personal collections for the event.

The celebration will also feature at least 10 local vendors with a variety of items for sale.

Sanyu said, "Each year we extend an open invitation to our community to come and present cultural merchandise that they have — cultural clothing that you don't find in the department stores, African crafts, basket and jewelry and that type of thing."

A returning vendor is Ethnic Boutique, a Ming Avenue shop that specializes in colorful and trendy African fashion. Sanyu noted that if those planning to attend would like to pick up African attire to wear to the celebration, which is encouraged, they can visit the shop in advance.

"They have time to purchase African attire here locally from a shop here in Bakersfield, to contribute to the celebration in their own unique way," he said.

Some refreshments will also be provided by New Spirit Women's Group, one of the event sponsors and co-partners. Although he did not know what the group would have this year, Sanyu said in 2019 a black-eyed pea soup was served.

Since last year's event was canceled, Sanyu expects a good turnout for Wednesday's event at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Cultural Center, with around 200 to 300 people. 

He also encourages people to take what they learn at the event as a starting point to the diverse African culture. 

"Africa is a continent with over 3,000 ethnic groups. ... No one should expect someone to present every aspect of their culture."

Stefani Dias can be reached at 661-395-7488. Follow her on Twitter: @realstefanidias.