Sunday, December 17, 2017

Kwanzaa Children's Song "O Kwanzaa" (information, lyrics, videos, & instrumental song file)

Edited by Azizi Powell

Latest Revision December 28, 2017

This pancocojams post provides information about the holiday song "O Kwanzaa" and showcases video examples of that song.

A sound file for the instrumental version of that song is also included in this post along with the song's lyrics and information about the meaning of the Swahili words in that song.

The Addendum to this post provides information about the Kwanzaa holiday and information about KiSwahili ("Swahili") language.

The content of this post is presented for cultural and educational purposes.

All copyrights remain with their owners.

Thanks to Teresa Jennings, the composers of this song and thanks to all those who are featured in these videos. Thanks also to the publishers of these videos on YouTube.

Example #1: O Kwanzaa

jennsahy, Published on Dec 22, 2008

2008 Prairie Hill School Holiday Program - 2nd Grade, Song 3

Example #2: Singing o kwanza

poodinker, Published on Dec 14, 2012

Xmas concert

Example #3: Oh Kwanzaa ,,,

Jonathan Perrin, Published on Dec 16, 2014

My son Rylen and his third grade class performing kwanzaa in there Christmas concert. 2014

Example #4: O Kwanzaa [karoake - lyrics on screen]

Kutsal Gun, Published on Jun 11, 2016

This video is for educational purposes only and all music is copyrighted by Music K-8.

Judging from the number of videos of this song YouTube, and the comment from these discussion threads, Teresa Jennings' 2002 composition "O Kwanzaa" is the most widely sung Kwanzaa song (for children, and perhaps also for adults) in the United States.

As demonstrated in these videos, "O Kwanzaa" is sung in elementary schools by young children of all races/ethnicities during these school's Christmas (or winter holiday) programs.

Here's information about that song from Music K-8,
The Resource Magazine For Elementary And Middle School Music Teachers (Volume 13, Number 2, Plank Road Publishing, November 2002)
" O Kwanzaa by Teresa Jennings

To help you bring Kwanzaa to your students, consider using the song in this issue, "O Kwanzaa." It is a unique blend of hip hop, gospel, and African styles which students will enjoy. A pronunciation guide is included on the music for the Swahili words. The division of part 2 is optional (as is part 2 itself), but it adds distinctly to the flavor of the piece. Be sure students emphasize the crescendo/descresendo for the best results in all parts. Have them listen to the recording for reference. Also let them play along on their own Orff/percussion instruments using our suggested rhythms (see page 64) or creating their own. See if they can identify the African percussion used on the recording."

(Teresa Jennings)

O-o-o Kwanzaa
O-o-o Kwanzaa
O-o-o Kwanzaa

O-o-o Kwanzaa
O-o-o Kwanzaa
O-o-o Kwanzaa

O-o o
Seven days of celebration
Nguzo Saba
Seven days of celebration
Habari gani

Seven days of celebration
Nguzo Saba
Seven days of celebration
Habari gani

[repeat the entire song again]
The second and third "o" in this song are elongated.
Here are explanations of the Swahili terms in this song:

pronounced KWAN-zah
Kwanzaa is an annual winter holiday that occurs December 6 - January 1. Each day of Kwanzaa showcases one "principle" for good living These seven principles are collectively called "the Nguza Saba".

The Kwanzaa holiday was created in 1966 by African American activist Maulana Karenga. (The Arabic word "Maulana" is pronounced mawl-LAH-nah) and means "religious teacher". However, Kwanzaa isn't a religious holiday and Maulana Karenga wasn't the leader of a religious organization.)

The word "Kwanzaa" is based on the KiSwahili (Swahili) word "kwanza" which means "first". The longer name for this holiday is "Kwanzaa ya Matunda" (mah-TOON_dah) meaning "First Fruits". Kwanzaa is a partly patterned after African harvest festivals. (Notice the symbols of corn and other fall vegetables that are traditionally laid on the Kwanzaa mat representing "crops".)

Singing songs about Kwanzaa helps reinforce awareness of and appreciation of multiculturalism by presenting additional opportunities to learn about African American culture and Black African cultures.

Additional cmments about incorporating information and songs about Kwanzaa in schools' curriculum are found in the Addendum below.

Habari gani:
{pronounced hah-BAH-ree GAH-nee)

A lot of articles about Kwanzaa give the English translation of the Swahili words "Habari gani" as "What's the news?"*. However, the English translation for the Swahili words "Habari gani" actually is "How are you?"

*I think that the "What's the news?" interpretation came about because in the late 1960s when the Kwenzaa holiday was created the African American Vernacular (informal) English greeting "What's happening?" was popular among African Americans.

"What's the news?" is another way of saying "What's happening?" Other similar informal greetings are "What's up?", "What's going on" and "How [are] you doing?"

Nguzo Saba [pronounced n-GOO-zah SAH-bah]
Swahili words which are given the English meaning "seven principles" [refers to the principle (such as "unity" and "purpose") that is celebrated each day of the Kwanzaa holiday.

[pronounced hah=RAH-bay], usually with the last syllable elongated]


a work chant used on the E African coast
a rallying cry used in Kenya
a cry of harambee

Word Origin
Swahili: pull together"
Among culturally afrocentric African Americans (meaning: African Americans who are interested in the the cultures of Africa and the African Diaspora and incorporate some of those cultural indices into their lives), "Harambee" is considered and used as an exclamation meaning "All pull together!" (Work together. Be unified.)

The motion that is "traditionally" used for "the Harambee! salute" is:
"...the elder leads the guests in the Harambee (ha-RAM-bee) salute. Each person raises their right fist about as high as their shoulder, then pulls down forcefully until the elbow is next to next to their torso, saying “Harambee!” This is done seven times in unison."

Click [at around 1:21] for a clip of this motion.

Added December 28, 2017]
I recall chanting "Harambee! All pull together!" (repeated one or more times and then ending in "Harambeeee!") when I was a member of the Black cultural nationalist organization The Committee For Unified Newark in the late 1960s.

While chanting "all pull together" we imitated pulling a rope toward our body like in the "tug of war" game.

Click for the 2015 pancocojams post entitled "Why Swahili Terms Are Used For The African American Originated Holiday Kwanzaa."

"Harambee is a Kenyan tradition of community self-help events, e.g. fundraising or development activities. Harambee literally means "all pull together" in Swahili, and is also the official motto of Kenya and appears on its coat of arms.

Harambee events may range from informal affairs lasting a few hours, in which invitations are spread by word of mouth, to formal, multi-day events advertised in newspapers. These events have long been important in parts of East Africa, as ways to build and maintain communities.

Following Kenya's independence in 1963, the first Prime Minister, and later first President of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta adopted "Harambee" as a concept of pulling the country together to build a new nation. He encouraged communities to work together to raise funds for all sorts of local projects, pledging that the government would provide their startup costs. Under this system, wealthy individuals wishing to get into politics could donate large amounts of money to local harambee drives, thereby gaining legitimacy; however, such practices were never institutionalised during Kenyatta's presidency.

A popular etymology deriving the term from the name of a Hind goddess, Amba Mata (a form of Durga riding a Tiger) has been proposed, supposedly via Hindu railway linesmen carrying loads of iron rails and sleeper blocks who would chant "har, har Ambe!" ("praise Amba") when working. The first president, Jomo Kenyatta has been said to have witnessed such a railway line team as it worked in cohesion and harmony and derived the term from there. This has led to criticism against the official use of the term on the part of Kenyan Christians. The actual etymology of the term is, however, cited as genuinely Bantu, from the Miji Kenda term halumbe "to pull or push together".[1] The objections have also been dismissed based on the that even if the supposed derivation were true, it has become irrelevant to the term's modern usage and meaning.[2]"
Also, read the information about Swahili in the Addendum below.

"Kwanzaa is a week-long celebration held in the United States and in other nations of the West African diaspora in the Americas. The celebration honors African heritage in African-American culture, and is observed from December 26 to January 1, culminating in a feast and gift-giving.[1] Kwanzaa has seven core principles (Nguzo Saba). It was created by Maulana Karenga and was first celebrated in 1966–67.

History and etymology
Maulana Karenga created Kwanzaa in 1966, as the first specifically African-American holiday,[2] (but see also Juneteenth). According to Karenga, the name Kwanzaa derives from the Swahili phrase matunda ya kwanza, meaning "first fruits of the harvest",[3] although a more conventional translation would simply be "first fruits". The choice of Swahili, an East African language, reflects its status as a symbol of Pan-Africanism, especially in the 1960s, although most of the Atlantic slave trade that brought African people to America originated in West Africa.[4]

Kwanzaa is a celebration that has its roots in the black nationalist movement of the 1960s and was established as a means to help African Americans reconnect with their African cultural and historical heritage by uniting in meditation and study of African traditions and Nguzo Saba, the "seven principles of African Heritage" ...

Many African Americans who celebrate Kwanzaa do so in addition to observing Christmas.[8]

Principles and symbols

Kwanzaa celebrates what its founder called the seven principles of Kwanzaa, or Nguzo Saba (originally Nguzu Saba—the seven principles of African Heritage), which Karenga said "is a communitarian African philosophy," consisting of what Karenga called "the best of African thought and practice in constant exchange with the world." These seven principles comprise Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning "common". Each of the seven days of Kwanzaa is dedicated to one of the following principles, as follows:[9]

Umoja (Unity): To strive for and to maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race.

Kujichagulia (Self-Determination): To define and name ourselves, as well as to create and speak for ourselves.

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.

Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics): To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together.

Nia (Purpose): To make our collective vocation the building and developing of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness.

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.

Imani (Faith): To believe with all our hearts in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle.

Kwanzaa celebratory symbols include a mat (Mkeka) on which other symbols are placed: a Kinara (candle holder), Mishumaa Saba (seven candles), mazao (crops), Muhindi (corn), a Kikombe cha Umoja (unity cup) for commemorating and giving shukrani (thanks) to African Ancestors, and Zawadi (gifts). Supplemental representations include a Nguzo Saba poster,[10] the black, red, and green bendera (flag), and African books and artworks – all to represent values and concepts reflective of African culture and contribution to community building and reinforcement.[11] Corn is the primary symbol for both decoration and celebratory dining.

... A Kwanzaa ceremony may include drumming and musical selections, libations, a reading of the African Pledge and the Principles of Blackness, reflection on the Pan-African colors, a discussion of the African principle of the day or a chapter in African history, a candle-lighting ritual, artistic performance, and, finally, a feast (karamu). The greeting for each day of Kwanzaa is Habari Gani?[16] which is Swahili for "How are you?"[17]

At first, observers of Kwanzaa avoided the mixing of the holiday or its symbols, values, and practice with other holidays, as doing so would violate the principle of kujichagulia (self-determination) and thus violate the integrity of the holiday, which is partially intended as a reclamation of important African values. Today, many African American families celebrate Kwanzaa along with Christmas and New Year's.[18] Frequently, both Christmas trees and kinaras, the traditional candle holder symbolic of African American roots, share space in Kwanzaa-celebrating households. For people who celebrate both holidays, Kwanzaa is an opportunity to incorporate elements of their particular ethnic heritage into holiday observances and celebrations of Christmas.


In 2004, BIG Research conducted a marketing survey in the United States for the National Retail Foundation, which found that 1.6% of those surveyed planned to celebrate Kwanzaa. In a 2006 speech, Maulana Karenga asserted that 28 million people celebrate Kwanzaa. He has always claimed it is celebrated all over the world.[1] Lee D. Baker puts the number at 12 million.[22] The African American Cultural Center claimed 30 million in 2009.[23] In 2011, Keith Mayes said that 2 million people participated in Kwanzaa.[23]

According to University of Minnesota Professor Keith Mayes, the author of Kwanzaa: Black Power and the Making of the African-American Holiday Tradition, the popularity within the US has "leveled off" as the black power movement there has declined, and as of 2009 between 500 thousand and two million people celebrated Kwanzaa in the US, or between one and five percent of African Americans. Mayes added that white institutions now celebrate it.[12]

The holiday has also spread to Canada and is celebrated by Black Canadians in a similar fashion as in the United States.[24] According to the Language Portal of Canada, "this fairly new tradition has [also] gained in popularity in France, Great Britain, Jamaica and Brazil".[25]

In Brazil, in recent years the term Kwanzaa has been applied by a few institutions as a synonym for the festivities of the Black Awareness Day, commemorated on November 20 in honor of Zumbi dos Palmares,[26][27] having little to do with the celebration as it was originally conceived."...
Italics added to highlight those sentences.

Kwanzaa is an annual winter holiday that occurs December 26 - January 1. Kwanzaa was invented in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an African American activist.

My position is that the main purpose of incorporating a song or songs about Kwanzaa into elementary school's music and "social studies" curriculum is to help reinforce awareness and appreciation of multiculturalism by presenting additional opportunities to learn about African American cultures and Black African cultures.

However, it's important to teach that Kwanzaa is an African American created holiday which isn't traditionally celebrated in African nations. However, the idea for Kwanzaa partly comes from African harvest festivals such as the Homowo [ho-MOH-woh] festival in Ghana. (Click for a pancocojams post about that festival.)

It's also important to recognize that only a few African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa and those who do usually combine that celebration with their observances of Christmas and New Years. The colors for the African American flag are red, black, and green and pan-African colors are red, green, and gold. All of thee colors, and in particular red, black, and green are considered the colors for Kwanzaa. The fact that these colors are very similar to the red and green Christmas decorations makes it quite easy to combine Christmas decorations with Kwanzaa decorations.

Click these links below for two other pancocojams post about Kwanzaa: Why Swahili Terms Are Used For The African American Originated Holiday "Kwanzaa" Teddy Pendergrass - Happy Kwanzaa (video & lyrics)

Additional pancocojams posts about Kwanzaa can be found by clicking the Kwanzaa tag below.

Also, click for a related pancocojams post entitled The History And Meaning Of The Red, Black, And Green Flag
My comments about the concept of Kwanzaa being patterned after African "first fruits" harvest festivals are based on internet sources as well as my memories as an early celebrant of Kwanzaa (in 1967-1969) when I was a member of the cultural nationalist organization The Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN), based in Newark, New Jersey.

CFUN, led by Imamu AMiri Baraka (formerly known as LeRoi Jones), was the first organization in the East Coast to celebrate and promote the African American holiday Kwanzaa. Ron Karenga's Oakland, California cultural nationalist organization named "Us" (which had some significant differences from CFUN) was the first organization in the United States to promote and celebrate Kwanzaa (in 1966).

"Swahili, also known as Kiswahili (translation: coast language[7]), is a Bantu language and the first language of the Swahili people. It is a lingua franca of the African Great Lakes region and other parts of eastern and south-eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)...

Estimates of the total number of Swahili speakers vary widely, from 50 million to over 100 million.[2] Swahili serves as a national language of four nations: Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and the DRC.[citation needed] Shikomor, the official language in Comoros and also spoken in Mayotte (Shimaore), is related to Swahili.[10] Swahili is also one of the working languages of the African Union and officially recognised as a lingua franca of the East African Community.[11]

A significant fraction of Swahili vocabulary is derived from Arabic through contact with Arabic-speaking Muslim inhabitants of the Swahili Coast.[12]"...

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Visitor comment are welcome.


  1. For the historical record, I disagree with the Wikipedia statement that [Maulana] "Karenga, a major figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s".

    Maulana Karenga was and still is a major figure in African American history and culture as a result of his creation of the Kwanzaa holiday. However, it might be more accurate to say that he was a controversial figure in the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s.

    From 1967 to August 1969, I was a member of the Committee For Unified Newark (CFUN). CFUN was a Newark, New Jersey cultural nationalist organization which was patterned to some extent after Karenga's Oakland, California "US" organization). This was before CFUN became a Socialist organization. When I was a CFUN member of that organization never spoke about, taught, or promoted socialism.

    However, there were some customs that members of US had that CFUN didn't adopt. For example, "US" was a sister organization of the Black Panthers, but CFUN wasn't. Also, all of the female members of CFUn-if not all of the males- didn't like the possibility of Maulana's custom of polygamy being formerly instituted in CFUN. (It wasn't while I was there.)
    And there are other things that we considered problematic about Maulana Karenga and the US organization- such as his treatment of women and some other male US members' treatment of women. Click to read more information about Maulana Ron Karenga and the "US" organization.

    *For the record, I wasn't a peripheral member of CFUN. In the beginning of that organization (in the 1966-1967) CFUN was led by three men. One man was in charge of the political component of that organization whose goal was to help elect more Black people in Newark. I can't remember the name of that leader. The other two leaders were Amiri Baraka, who led the cultural component of that organization, and Zayd Ibn Muhammad, the leader of the martial arts component. The purpose was to train males so that they could protect themselves and other members of the organization. For most of 1967, I was Zayd's woman and as such was one of the founding members of the female component of CFUN which was started by Amiri Baraka's wife Ameena.

    Some time in late 1967 or in early 1968 there was a "coup", and Amiri Baraka took over the leadership of the entire CFUN organization.

    However, before that time, in my role as Zayd's house (female companion), I met Maulana Karenga.

    1. Also, I'd like to correct this statement in the Wikipedia article about Kwanzaa: "The holiday greeting is "Joyous Kwanzaa".[13][14][15]".

      In my experience since 1966, in Newark, New Jersey (as a member of the Committee For Unified Newark which was the second United States organization to celebrate and promote Kwanzaa) and later in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, I've never ever heard "Joyous Kwanzaa" used as a greeting for that holiday".

      Also, unlike the information in that Wikipedia article, I definitely don't know of any formal or informal directive as part of the traditions of Kwanzaa in which non-African Americans were/are supposed to use one particular greeting for Kwanzaa while African Americans were/are supposed to use another Kwanzaa greeting.

      The tradition that Karenga, the creator of Kwanzaa, and/or Amiri Baraka, the leader of Newark's CFUN organization who was very instrumental in promoting Kwanzaa throughout the United States, created and promoted was that during Kwanzaa people would greet someone saying "Habari gani" ("What's the news? although the real Swahili meaning is "How are you?). The person who was greeted was supposed to respond by saying the Swahili word for that particular day of Kwanzaa.

      For instance, on the first day, someone would say "Habari gani" and the person greeted would respond "Umoja"/

      But on the second day, the person would respond "Kuchichagulia".

      While some people who celebrate Kwanzaa may still use these greetings, I don't think that they are widely used even among people who attend Kwanzaa events.

      I've also used and have had other people use the greeting "Kwanzaa furaha" or (more often, its English translation) "Happy Kwanzaa".

      The person greeted might respond "Njema" [Swahili for "good"] or just respond back with the same words "Happy Kwanzaa".

      I initially wrote that "Kwanzaa Furaha" and its response "Njema" were the greetings/response that I remember from the cultural nationalist organization (Committee For Unified Newark) that I was a member of in 1967-1969. However, the more I think about it, I think that "Kwanzaa Furaha" and the Swahili response "Njema" may have been used as a Kwanzaa greeting later on among afrocentric Black folks in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

      *Note the first two highly questionable sources for Wikipedia"s information about the Kwanzaa greetings:

      [13] Bush, George W. (2004-12-23). "Presidential Kwanzaa Message, 2004". Office of the Press Secretary. Retrieved 2007-12-24.

      [14] "Clinton offers holiday messages". CNN. 1997-12-

      [15] Gale, Elaine (1998-12-26). "Appeal of Kwanzaa continues to grow; holidays: today marks start of the seven-day celebration of African culture, which began in Watts 32 years ago and is now observed by millions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2007-12-24.

  2. Do you have the accompaniment for the Song "Oh Kwanzaa" or know where I can purchase it? This accompaniment is so hard to find

    1. I'm sorry Unknown, I don't know where to find the accompaniment (music notes?) for the song "Oh Kwanzaa".

      I hope that someone reading this has this information and will share it here.

      Best wishes!

  3. I am singing Christmas/Seasonal songs for a diverse early childhood classroom and am trying to include some Kwanza songs. Christmas songs and chords are easy to find online as well as Hannukah. It looked like "Oh Kwanza" would be a good choice for a Kwanza song, but there are no chords to be found unless I want to pay for them and that is not an option at this time. I need to find chords that I can easily transpose as needed. Do you have any resources that could help with that? I am not a professional musician but rather a grandma playing music for my grandsons early childhood class. Thanks!

    1. Hello, Katrina.

      Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

      I'm sorry I don't know the chords to this song and don't know about any resources to help pay for the purchase of chords.

      I'm also a grandmother and not a musician or professional singer. I just listen to children's songs and then teach them to children without musical accompaniment.

      I think your early childhood class would still enjoy this song without any musical accompaniment.

      Best wishes.