Thursday, January 20, 2011
The World Festival of Black Arts was first held in 1966 in Dakar, Senegal. The festival was conceived by then president, Leopold Sédar Senghor. Senghor was a foundational member of the Negritude movement that sought to affirm and elevate the achievements of Black people and African culture throughout the world. A perfect expression of this mission, the first Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres was attended by people from 37 countries, and hosted many of the greatest Black cultural emissaries of the day including Duke Ellington, Aimé Césaire, and Josephine Baker.
The second, called FESTAC, was held in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria. It was the stuff of legend. By then, most African countries had gained their independence, freeing themselves from degrading colonial control only 25-30 years ago. New African countries were eager to send their best cultural ambassadors to the festival. FESTAC ’77 was attended by thousands of people from Africa and the Diaspora. Artists included Stevie Wonder, The Sun Ra Arkestra, and Donald Byrd from the US, Tabu Ley and Franco from the Congo, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, Bembeya Jazz National from Guinea, and Louis Maholo, Dudu Pukwana, and Miriam Makeba from South Africa. The core of the festival from the organizers’ perspective was a two-week long colloquium where more than 200 leading Black scholars presented papers and discussed topics related to everything from arts and languages, philosophy and religion, to science and technology.
After a 33 year gap, the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture (sometimes referred to as FESMAN) was revived by Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade, and given the go ahead by the African Union, to mark the renaissance and legacy of Africa in the 21st century. 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of independence for 18 African nations, as well as being the year that South Africa hosted the World Cup Soccer Tournament.The guest of honor at the Black Arts Festival was Brazil, who brought a 400 strong delegation of artists and intellectuals. Featured musicians included, Salif Keita of Mali, Angelique Kidjo from Benin, Omar Pene from Senegal, Marcus Miller from the US, the Mahotella Queens from South Africa, and Wyclef-Jean from the US/Haiti. Intellectuals participated in a full slate of panel discussions on everything from the African Renaissance (Wade’s signature theme) to the role of the Diaspora in Africa today to Egyptology to the role of culture in the fight against HIV/AIDS (Baaba Maal was a featured speaker.) Visitors also enjoyed after-hours concerts at hip downtown venues including a local favorite, Just 4 You Dakar that featured veteran artists like Orchestra Baobab, Souleymane Faye, and Cheikh Lo.