The sounds of rhythmic drumbeats mixed with guitar, keyboard and bass notes, accompanied by the rustle and rattle of a beaded gourd filled downtown Oakland with the melody of African-inspired songs in recognition of Kwanzaa, a weeklong celebration of African-American heritage.
The West African Highlife Band performed Wednesday afternoon in front of a tall Christmas tree in Oakland’s City Center, celebrating the holidays and the city’s diverse cultural heritage.
Kwanzaa is usually observed at the end of the month, from December 26 to January 1. The holiday, meant to incorporate all African cultures, is a tradition that began in 1966 to unite Africans worldwide. During the week of holiday festivities, families decorate with colorful objects, feast and dance, and give gifts.
Wednesday’s public musical performance exemplified the idea behind Kwanzaa: a celebration to unite people with African roots across the United States, and the world. The band brought together four African performers from different countries. Producer and bassist Ken Okulolo is from Nigeria, as is guitarist Soji Odukogbe. Pope Flyne on the keyboard and Nii Armah Hammond, who beat a set of traditional drums, are both from Ghana. For an hour the band drummed, strummed and sang, while wearing brightly colored shirts.
“Oakland, how are you feeling today?” Okulolo asked the crowd over the microphone. “Get up and dance with us!” The downtown lunch crowd responded with a cheer—some ate, some danced along and others simply sat in the sun, enjoying the music.