Naima Shalhoub and Marcus Shelby expressed the seven principles of Kwanzaa through their music at the fourth annual celebration inside San Quentin’s Catholic Chapel.
“This is what music is: it’s about freedom; it’s about fellowship and sharing with community and what places need it the most,” said Shalhoub.
Before a packed room, Shalhoub used her jazzy voice and Shelby rocked the bass guitar to delight the crowd with their performances of seven songs.
“The music is in line with the principle of Kwanzaa,” said Shelby. “Part of who I am is an extension of these principles.”
Father George Williams opened with a call to stand against the demonization of Islam.
“We want to encourage everyone at S.Q. to avoid the stereotyping of Muslims,” said Williams. “In the season of light, when we celebrate Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah; join us for an end to violence carried out in the name of any religion.”
Bread and Roses brought the artists in. The organization has been bringing musicians into San Quentin for 40 years, according to Lisa Starbird.
“We believe in the healing power of music,” said Starbird, who has been with Bread and Roses for eight 1/2 years.
Prisoner David Jassy opened with a song performed in Wolof, the language of Gambia, accompanied by Samuel Wogie, who spoke in Swahili. Shelby added bass.
“David, that was amazing. I hope you don’t mind I jumped in and played with you,” said Shelby.
In honor of Umoja (Unity), they performed “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around,” inspired by the unity demonstrated during the civil rights marches. S.Q.’s Lee “Jazz” Jaspar joined in on the piano.
|“We believe in the healing power of music”|
Raphael Calix hosted the event, pausing the singing before the impatient crowd to observe the prayers and rituals of Kwanzaa, including pouring the libation into the Kikambe Cha Umoja (Unity Cup) to honor the ancestors.
“The prayers are straightforward — calling on us to be sincere and to be honorable,” said Calix. “We honor our ancestors and the positive lives they lived by emulating them.”
The music resumed with “Rise,” an original song written by Shalhoub. It represented Kugichagulia (Self Determination).
“So this song, ‘Rise,’ I actually wrote it thinking about myself, a little Brown girl…I wrote it imagining what I would tell myself,” said Shalhoub.
The “Work Song” represented Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility). S.Q.’s Dwight Krizman joined the growing band on the drums.
For Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Shalhoub sang another of her inspirational songs called “A River Inside You.”
“Sometimes it feels like I’m going nowhere, held captive by the highs and lows, but I know none of it can define me,” sang Shalhoub. “I find myself running into the arms of things that try to keep me numb, but I know the gift is inside to help me find my freedom.”
Nia (Purpose) was expressed with “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” which Shelby mentioned was sung during the civil rights movement to keep up the sense of humanity and purpose. S.Q.’s Gino Sevacos was called up to play percussion.
Bessie Smith’s “Work House Blues” was played in honor of Kuumba (Creativity). Shelby talked about how the minds of slaves created Blues.
Jaspar ignited the crowd with a passionate piano solo, drawing applause.
“If I had done what my baby told me, I wouldn’t be in here today, I wouldn’t be in this jailhouse with six more years to pay,” sang Shalhoub.