Story and Photos by James Walker, Jr.
Kwanzaa, a celebration created by Dr. Ron Karenga in 1966 that reflects the
history, struggle, triumphs, and labors of African-Americans was observed for
the 15th year at Malcolm from December 26th through January 1st. As usual each day
consist of "African Market Place", "Food Fair", Awards and Musical/Dance
This observer had the privilege of experiencing two of the days, December 30,
2009 and January 1, 2010. Prince Ravanna/Kerry Willis and the "Thunder Sky
Drummers" put on an exciting drumming exhibition before a near capacity crowd.
Their performance consisted of an elaborate integration of traditional African
Drum music and contemporary African-American jazz syncopation.
The drummers were followed by dynamic spoken word artist Armen Rah. Armen's
militant rhymes and "in your face metaphors" has earned him three nominations
for a Black Theater Alliance Award. He used past life experiences to raise the
consciousness of all assembled, especially today's youth.
The day's entertainment came to a climatic end with the sounds of one Chicago's
premier jazz vocalist, Joan Collaso. Joan was accompanied by musical
director/husband Larry Hanks on keyboards, Vern Allison on Drums and Maurice
Houston on electric bass. Joan was also assisted by background vocalists (and daughters) Rayzine
and Jeanetta Collaso. Joan and the gang highlighted their
performance by inviting a large group to join them on stage for an opportunity
to showcase their vocal skills. What a nice touch by this spirited veteran
vocalist who can sing with the best that Chicago offers. Joan being a very
spiritual person always brings an uplifting message to her audience. This writer
is sure that these young people will always remember their "moment of stardom"
with "mama Joan".
Veteran multireedist Ari Brown and his band mates of Kirk Brown on keyboard, Dr.
Cuz on percussion, Yosef Ben Israel on bass and Avreeayl Ra on drums concluded
this very successful final day of celebration before an standing room only
crowd. Many waited outside the auditorium in hopes of entering , but to no
avail. Brown had been preceded by Chicago's first lady of jazz, vocalist Dee
Alexander. Undoubtedly, many remained after her performance to experience this
legendary south side saxophonist. Their hour long set introduced many to the
power and grace that Brown possess. He produces sounds with the sax that many
musicians only dream about. His exceptional colleagues also demonstrated their
expertise on their respective instruments. What an outstanding performance to
conclude seven celebratory days of Kwanzaa.