Kwanzaa Culinarians

Recipes and Food Stories from the African Diaspora

What Does the Nguzo Saba Sound Like?

The seven principles of the Nguzo Saba are designed to help us reflect on community building and communal advancement. Unlike its holiday counterparts, Christmas and Hanukkah, there is no canon of Kwanzaa songs. For ethnomusicologists like us this was a delightful challenge to confront. The following playlists are our interpretation of what the music of Kwanzaa could sound like. We hope that listening to each playlist is a launching pad for you to think of your own songs that reflect the spirit of Kwanzaa.

Umoja Musical Selection

Umoja Musical Selection. Credits: Bob Marley by Eddie Mallin, Sweet Honey in the Rock by Singitonline at, Afrika Bambaataa and James Brown at, and Roy Ayers by Werner Nieke at

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.
1. Nommo by Max Roach
2. Unity Part by Afrika Bambaata & James Brown
3. What A Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong
4. Africa Unite by Bob Marley & The Wailers
5. Spread Love by Take 6
6. Are We a Nation? by Sweet Honey In The Rock
7. Red, Black & Green by Roy Ayers

Kujichagulia Musical Selection

Kujichagulia Musical Selection. Credits: Dianne Reeves by Rich Moffitt, Earth Wind and Fire by Chris Hakkens, Jill Scott by Simba Madziva, Curtis Mayfield by AVRO at, Mavis Staples by Jalylah Burrell at, The Stylistics at, and Stevie Wonder by Antonio Cruz/ABr

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves stand up.
1. To Be Young, Gifted And Black by Donny Hathaway
2. You Gotta Be by Des’ree
3. Move on Up by Curtis Mayfield
4. Eyes On The Prize by Dianne Reeves
5. Brotha by Jill Scott
6. You Will Rise by Sweetback
7. Keep Your Head To The Sky by Earth, Wind & Fire

Ujima Musical Selection

Ujima Musical Selection. Credits: Dianne Reeves by Rich Moffitt, Earth Wind and Fire by Chris Hakkens, Jill Scott by Simba Madziva, Curtis Mayfield by AVRO at, Mavis Staples by Jalylah Burrell at, The Stylistics at, and Stevie Wonder by Antonio Cruz/ABr

Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility): To build and maintain our community together and make our brothers’ and sisters’ problems our problems, and to solve them together.
1. People Get Ready by Aretha Franklin
2. You’re Not Alone by Mavis Staples
3. We Can Work It Out by Stevie Wonder
4. People Make the World Go Round by The Stylistics
5. Lean On Me by Bill Withers
6. Brother Sister by The Brand New Heavies
7. Get Up, Get into it, Get Involved by James Brown

Ujamaa Musical Selection

Ujamaa Musical Selection. Credits: The O’Jays by RaymondBoyd51 at, Rachelle Ferrell at, Angie Stone by Bengt Nyman at, and Sly & the Family Stone in 1969 by Stephen Paley

Ujamaa (family): The belief in family and general communal understanding.
1. Brotha by Angie Stone
2. Grandma’s Hands by Bill Withers
3. Cousin Mary by John Coltrane
4. Sista by Rachelle Ferrell
5. Family Affair by Sly & The Family Stone
6. We Are One by Maze (feat. Frankie Beverly)
7. Family Reunion by O’Jays

Nia Musical Selection

Nia Musical Selection. Credits: India.Arie by Chris Hakkens, Michael Jackson by, and NAS by kokuziu at

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.
1. Free by Goodie M.O.B.
2. I Can by Nas
3. Woke Up This Morning with My Mind by Sweet Honey in the Rock
4. Headed in the Right Direction by India.Arie
5. Higher Ground by Stevie Wonder
6. Wake Up Everybody by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
7. We Are Here to Change the World by Michael Jackson

Kuumba Musical Selection

Kuumba Musical Selection. Credits: FertileGround at, Eryka Badu by Najmudeen at, Mos Def at, and George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic by Richard Anderson

Kuumba (Creativity): To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it.
Black is by Fertile Ground
Individuality (Can I Be Me?) by Rachelle Ferrell
Cloud 9 by Donnie
Umi Says by Mos Def
Cleva by Erykah Badu
Chocolate City by Parliament
Free Your Mind by En Vogue

Imani Musical Selection

Imani Musical Selection. Credits: Lizz Wright by Tom Beetz at and Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir at

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.
1. Open Your Eyes, You Can Fly by Lizz Wright
2. There’s Hope by India.Arie
3. Optimistic by Sounds of Blackness
4. On the Ocean by K’Jon
5. Testify by Dianne Reeves
6. Tomorrow (A Better You Better Me) by Tevin Campbell
7. Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing by Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir

CONTEST: In the spirit of giving, we are offering a signed musical gift from Tulani Kinard, former member of Sweet Honey in the Rock to one randomly chosen person who leaves a comment below. Contest Details: Contest starts Thurs., Dec. 22, 2011 and ends Wed., Dec. 29, 2011 at 8 p.m./EST. Winner announced on Sat., Dec. 31, 2011. Contest open to residents of the continental United States, excluding Alaska, Hawaii and U.S. foreign territories. No additional purchase or shipping expenses are necessary. Prize cannot be exchanged. Must provide an email used only to notify the winner and for shipping information.

Aja & Free are ethnomusicologists who are speedily completing their doctoral work at University of Michigan and Indiana University respectively. As ethnomusicologists, Aja & Free are concerned with how people use music to live their lives. This can be as simple as considering how parents teach their kids the “alphabet song” to help them become literate members of Western society or thinking about how iPods allow each of us to become a curator of our own individualized musical experiences. We believe that looking at music of a specific genre, culture, or context are significant ways to capture how people are creating themselves and their lives…and even better, explore the possibilities of what their lives could be. Follow us on Twitter @ajaandfree and visit our website at

About Sanura

Art Director/Senior Graphic Designer at Food Writer at

4 comments on “What Does the Nguzo Saba Sound Like?

  1. DjM
    December 23, 2011

    what an awesome post. every playlist is on fire! especially ‘Nia’ – does anyone know if the Blackalicious album is dedicated to this? I’m really enjoying discovering more about African musicology, please keep posting!


  2. Lonnie L Smith
    December 23, 2011

    Have you heard the song “IMANI” by “Lonnie Liston Smith”?


  3. Andrea Jackson
    December 22, 2011

    Hi! I love this post. I will be thinking of others to add. I, too, celebrate Kwanzaa, and this helps me share with others who are learning more about the holiday.



  4. Nailah S
    December 22, 2011

    This is such a great post! I’ve been celebrating Kwanzaa for many years and would often feel frustrated with the lack of musical tributes to the holiday. I definitely will be adding some new songs to my playlist this year.


Comments are closed.


This entry was posted on December 22, 2011 by in 2011, contest, Kuumba, Music and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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Learn more about Kwanzaa

The word "Kwanzaa" comes from the phrase, "matunda ya kwanza" which means "first-fruits." Kwanzaa's extra "a" evolved as a result of a particular history of the Organization Us. It was clone as an expression of African values in order to inspire the creativity of our children. In the early days of Us, there were seven children who each wanted to represent a letter of Kwanzaa. Since kwanza (first) has only six letters, we added an extra "a" to make it seven, thus creating "Kwanzaa." To learn more about Kwanzaa, visit the Official Kwanzaa Website.

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