It’s the most wonderful time of the year, ESSENCE readers! Despite 2020 being a year full of tragedies, trauma, and terror from that big white ghoul in the White House — Black people all over the world have continued to prosper and thrive. We here at ESSENCE hope and pray that you can enjoy a healthy and loving holiday with your close family members and friends. It is for that reason why I believe that this — my first Christmas as your Playlist curator — will be on to mark in the history books.
Yemi Alade, better known as Mama Africa, is as perfect a candidate to collaborate with for ESSENCE’s official Christmakwanzakah Playlist. Alade, an otherworldly talent who sings in Igbo, Pidgin, Yoruba, French, Swahili, Portuguese, and English, celebrates both Christmas and Boxing Day in Nigeria, but expressed an openness to learn more about Kwanzaa. “As far as I know, Kwanzaa isn’t celebrated in Nigeria, but we are very multi-cultural, so I am curious to learn more about Kwanzaa.”
When it comes to holiday sounds, I am more of a Snoop Dogg and Boyz II Men type, but Yemi’s taste are a bit more refined than mine. “I enjoy listening to the church choir deliver festive songs with all the cheer in the world,” the BET Award winning act shares with me via email. “My [absolute] favorite Christmas song is ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, and I believe that holiday cheer is a part of the diaspora, as well as other places around the world.”
With celebrating our African roots atop our respective minds and hearts, yours truly and Yemi Alade hope this exceptional holiday extravaganza into sound finds you and yours appreciated, full of love, light and food, and safe from harm. Enjoy the list below and stream ESSENCE’s The Playlist on Apple Music and Spotify.
1. Mariah Carey — “All I Want For Christmas Is You”
The King of Queens’ first pick for this holiday themed edition of The Playlist is a legendary classic by Mariah Carey. “Who doesn’t want to hear Mariah sing?” she shares with me via email. “This song reminds me of my family, and what is most important [to me] this season. It gets me right into the holiday mood.” Yes, yes, this is a solid and strong way to get into the festive spirit.
2. Jay Diggs — “Santa’s Going To Hear Us”
Jay Diggs, best known as the architect behind that oh-so-deliciously funky remix to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s “WAP,” returns with another one for your playlist rotation. “Santa’s Going To Hear Us” is for the grown-and-sexy gift givers, who don’t mind being on the naughty list this year.
3. Felix Mendelssohn — “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”
Mama Africa’s next pick is a classic by a certified musical prodigy in Felix Mendelssohn. The melody for “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” was created by the 18th century artist and is considered one of the Great Four Anglican Hymns in The Church Hymn Book. “[This song] brings back a lot of lovely memories for me while growing up,” Yemi adds. If you’re in need of that throwback holiday sound, this song is one to play while laying in front of that Yuletide fire.
4. Cory Henry — “Christmas With You”
Music virtuoso Cory Henry announced a holiday album earlier this month called Christmas With You. His signature “future soul” sound made him a standout star as a member of Snarky Puppy, but with this title song, Henry is offering longtime and new listeners a powerfully jubilant performance that is needed in all of our Christmas stockings.
5. Pentatonix — “Little Drummer Boy”
Christmas and Pentatonix go together like warm cookies and eggnog. The Arlington, Texas a cappella group have earned millions of views for their modern pop versions of Christmas songs, which comes in the form of medleys. Yemi Alade, the Afropop songwriter and activist, has chosen this ditty because, as she puts it, “loves this rendition of this song” and it wouldn’t be an eventful holiday without the The Sing-Off champion’s respective voices.
6. Black Violin — “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
Give Thanks is the latest release from the classical-meets-hip-hop duo of Kev Marcus and Will Baptiste. Also known as Black Violin, these two Ft. Lauderdale originals have channeled Christmas goodness and added it to their list of genre-blending goodness. Thankfulness and gratitude are the Black Violin’s calling card on “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” a song ASCAP ranks as the “third most performed Christmas song in the world.”
7. José Feliciano — “Feliz Navidad”
The Latin soft rock and pop gawd, José Feliciano, is Yemi Alade’s second-to-last pick. Born in Lares, Puerto Rico, Feliciano is a legend in the music world. His gift of guitar playing, mixed with his international acclaim is right up there with the all-time greats, and makes this selection one not to miss out on playing for friends and family. “This song takes me back to my childhood in Nigeria,” Mama Africa shares with me. “All those sweet memories growing up come flooding back whenever I play José Feliciano’s music.”
8. Big Freedia — “Heatin’ Up the Holidays”
Oh, yeah, baybee! N’awlins’ own Big Freedia brings us a sleigh full of new music in the form of her Smokin’ Santa Christmas album. And yes, the song with her and Flo Milli is currently on repeat in my home, but “Heatin’ Up the Holidays” is right up there for optimum Santa Baby booty bouncing. So, if you’re like me, you’ll be playing this joint, jigging, and twerking the night before Christmas.
9. Nat King Cole — “Jingle Bells”
One of the greatest singer-songwriter-composers to ever grace the airwaves, Nat King Cole was a giant in the industry. He was the model for jazz ensembles that followed his iconic trio group, plus he was the first Black man to make inroads into television. With that in mind, the final pick for this special episode of ESSENCE’s The Playlist is inescapable due to its holiday goodness and cheer. “Who doesn’t like Jingle Bells?” she asks via email. To that the answer is… only those with lumps of coal in their stockings.
10. Love Renaissance — “Ghetto Christmas” (ft. 6LACK & Summer Walker)
Love Renaissance (LVRN), the Atlanta-based music collective behind artists like 6LACK and Summer Walker, celebrates their successful 2020 with their first-ever holiday album. Home For the Holidays proves that it is always cool to be in love, as “Ghetto Christmas” follows in the tradition of Death Row and Dipset of making tastefully crafted holidays tunes that’ll make your stockings stuffed with pride.