Kunama was born in St Louis, and his parents are from a small town called Fulton Missouri. There, as a child, Kunama listened to music, poems, riddles, rhymes, songs, and stories told by his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles at a period in United States history when family entertainment was more internal (live performance) than external (movies, television, compact disc, etc.).

 

Kunama Mtendaji  specializes in performing and teaching storytelling, music and dance. He features the cultures of African people throughout the African world. Kunama performs solo and coordinates Afi Ama dance ensemble and Nanfoule (mask dance society). 

 

Kunama became inspired by talented Missouri legends, like George Washington Carver, Scott Joplin, Langston Hughes, Clark Terry, and others. He considers it a priority to study and promote the folklore of his surrounding environment and the source of that folklore, which begins in Africa.

During his undergrad years at Southern Illinois U. Edwardsville, Kunama was trained by the master djembe drummer Mor Thiam, and became a staff drummer at the Performing Arts Training Center in East St. Louis, which was under the direction of the legendary dancer, writer and anthropologist Katherine Dunham. He was highly exposed and inspired by the music and dance cultures of  Senegal, Haiti, Cuba and Brazil. 


He became a grad student at SIU-E, and worked directly under Katherine Dunham and her chief administrative assistant, Janelle Stovall at the Katherine Dunham Museum. This was a very significant period, because he studied and promoted intensely the functions of various masks, instruments, statues, paintings, and dances. It helped to shape and give his performing arts purpose and depth.