Michael Irvine - Music Librarian - College of Marin
imaginative, informative and masterfully-told story with eight beautifully compo
Invocations For Kwanzaa (Seven Nights with Nana & Achebe)
-Original Story and Music by Jacqueline Godden
In this imaginative, informative and touching story, created and performed by Ms. Godden, we are immersed in the magic of Kwanzaa, an African-American celebration of the harvest and the New Year that honors God and ancestors while teaching the history and traditions of Africans in this country. Originated in 1966 by Dr. Karenga, Kwanzaa is observed by more than 18 million people worldwide. Kwanzaa, meaning “beginning” or “first fruits of the harvest” in the African language Kiswahili, lasts for seven days, each day honoring a different principle: unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, community prosperity, purpose, creativity, and faith.
“Seven Nights with Nana & Achebe” tells the story of Kwanzaa as related in dreams to a small boy (Achebe) by his grandmother (Nana), who has recently passed away. Achebe is visited in dreams by Nana, whom Achebe misses dearly and whom he trusted as much as anyone in this world. Nana, as Achebe’s closest ancestor, is there to educate him about Kwanzaa. The history of the African-American struggle is related to Achebe through Nana’s homespun stories. Every night, in each of Nana’s tales, she relates to Achebe’s young mind a different cultural and moral value expressed as the seven precepts of Kwanzaa. Nana represents the best and wisest of the culture and Achebe exhibits the faith and later the integrity and generous nature that is the integral spirit of Kwanzaa. At one point, when Achebe becomes distressed at the unfairness of the world, Nana says, “Honey, if we just dwell on the miseries of life, we never would get outa bed. You can’t pretend it’s not happening. You gotta recognize it to make sure ya don’t add on to it. And you gotta have compassion for suffering, but you also gotta get actively involved in doing something about it, to change if for the good. Child, we have the power of God in us and there’s nothing we can’t do if we put our minds to it.”
Nana’s stories portray realism, the pain, struggles, and hardships of her people, but finally acquiesce to strength, fortitude, moral courage, family and community involvement, responsibility, and personal enrichment.
Ms. Godden punctuates her masterfully-told story with eight beautifully composed and performed songs that educate us about Kwanzaa and its seven principles. These songs create a mood and a cultural atmosphere that bring this performance to life. Kwanzaa is a product of a culture that supports an oral tradition where cultural artifacts are traditionally passed on through stories and song. Each night of Kwanzaa, with each principle, there is a new song. The author/composer/performer has carefully matched Nana’s stories to the accompanying music to weave a seamless tapestry that allows the listener moments of reflection and provides continuity.
We feel that we are experiencing each of the stories with Achebe, through the big, imaginative eyes of a small boy who has a determination and maturity that reflect his grandmother’s influence. The interplay between an elderly adult and child, used so often to relate great tales, reminds us that we can learn much from both of these groups. That she is now departed serves to illustrate that help is indeed available from the “ancestors”; respect for the same being a concept basic to Kwanzaa.
Nana has learned through experience to concentrate on the moment. The transformation in Achebe, who may be truly experiencing his culture for the first time, is perhaps Nana’s great achievement. Nana acts as a bridge between the ancestral realm and Achebe, representing the African-American children of today. By the end of seven nights, Achebe has inwardly shared many things that invoke in him a new sense of excitement and wonder, as well as a more grounded view of his world. He has a renewed faith in his culture and in himself. His place in the world has been defined and given meaning through Nana’s efforts.
I would recommend this CD to anyone seeking knowledge of Kwanzaa and its cultural background. The music alone makes this CD a good choice for any collection. Moreover, I would recommend this performance to anyone who, like myself, likes a good story. Kids and adults alike will love this CD. This is an especially good source for classrooms, schools and libraries seeking learning materials about important holiday celebrations of the world. A re-telling of an old but ever-new tale, it should be part of all folklore collections. Nana’s connection to Achebe brings the magic to this story. We can all learn from their affectionate connection, their belief in each other, and their shared conviction.
Review submitted by:
College of Marin Music Library