Wednesday, 25 January 2017


The First World Festival of Negro Arts, Dakar 1966: Contexts and Legacies is an engaging historical volume and also the “first sustained attempt" to provide not only an overview of the event mentioned in the title, but also of its multiple legacies, according to publisher Liverpool University Press.

Edited by David Murphy, professor of Postcolonial Studies at Scotland’s University of Stirling, the book focuses on the "Premier Festival Mondial des arts nègres", or FESMAN, that took place in April 1966. The festival drew thousands of artists and performers from across Africa and the African diaspora to the Senegalese capital, with luminaries such as Josephine Baker, Aimé Césaire, Duke Ellington, Wole Soyinka and Mighty Sparrow among the headliners.

The goal was to bring together leading intellectuals and artists, and FESMAN did this even as it played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, with the United States and the former Soviet Union jockeying for influence in Africa.

Initiated by then President Léopold Sédar Senghor, the festival showed the world the wealth of African art and culture, and people got a clear taste of the rivalry between the superpowers of the era, as the Soviet Union sent a steamship to Dakar with about 750 passengers who participated "alongside" a large American delegation, underwritten by the U.S. State Department.

More than 50 years later, this publication is aimed at helping readers to better understand FESMAN’s impact as well as the ‘festivalization’ of Africa that has occurred in recent decades, says the editor.

Murphy writes, for instance, that the many legacies of 1966 include the series of “mega-festivals that would follow over the ensuing decade”.

He and other scholars examine the festival from a number of different perspectives, shedding light on questions such as: what did it mean to cover the event as a journalist and what was its “legacy in black popular magazines”? How did the organizers go about “staging culture”? How important is maintaining and protecting archives on cultural history and on such singular events?

This is a volume for those particularly interested in postcolonial studies, but it will also appeal to readers who just wish to know more about FESMAN and its role in various movements.

For an earlier SWAN article about the festival and a related exhibition, please see:

Follow SWAN on Twitter: @mckenzie_ale

Wednesday, 4 January 2017


Someone once said that the best kind of music is that which makes you joyful and melancholic at the same time.  If such is the case, then Cape Verde’s national music - the morna - might be the perfect sound for the new year: eliciting happiness for fresh beginnings and sadness at some of the dire events of 2016.

The cover of Mornas de Cabo Verde (Lusafrica)
A recently released compilation, Mornas de Cabo Verde, evokes this swing between moods and the spirit of the times, even as it inspires admiration for the artists’ talents. Produced by the Lusafrica label which launched Cesária Évora’s career, Mornas features the late “barefoot diva” as well as earlier and contemporary singers.

The music resembles Portuguese fado, but “its accents are rough and heart-rending”, as Lusafrica puts it. Morna has its own characteristics and “probably comes from lament, a style of singing brought from Angola by slaves”.

Listeners will find that the album fully captures these songs that convey “a sadness full of hope”, starting off with Ildo Lobo’s poignant Nós Morna and quickly moving to Évora’s eternally sublime Miss Perfumado - which was the title of her best-selling 1992 album, and of a successful single.

The tracks also highlight the gifts of other singers such as Lura, Nancy Vieira, Zé Luis and, of course, Elida Almeida – the 23-year-old powerhouse who is regarded as Évora’s heir apparent, although their personal styles are very different. (For more on Almeida, see:

Almeida’s contribution, the plaintive Mar Sagrado, comes from her debut CD, and prospective listeners should be warned that the vocals might bring on an inexplicable urge to weep, while the instrumentals simultaneously make one want to dance. But then, that is the dual nature of the morna, and of this album.


The morna also appears on the latest work from Angolan artist Bonga, aka José Adelino Barceló de Calvalho. Recados de Fora (Messages from Elsewhere) is his 31st album, and comprises Angola’s traditional semba as well as Portuguese fado.

Bonga in concert.
Bonga lives in Portugal, and the album was “quietly” recorded there, in Paris, and in the Cape Verdean port city of Mindelo, says label Lusafrica.

“In Mindelo ... all members of the African-Portuguese community of musicians inevitably meet one night or another on the island of São Vicente,” adds a label spokesperson 

“This is Cesária’s hometown, and it takes pride in its many excellent musicians, including the guitarist Bau and Chico Serra, who both feature on the album.”

Along with Bonga’s gravelly voice and sharp lyrics, the compositions boast excellent backing vocals, infectious percussion, brass, flute and particularly the dikanza – a segment of grooved bamboo scraped with a stick. Producer Betinho Feijo orchestrates the whole with a “light touch”, but the turbulent history of Angola comes across in Bonga’s critiques of globalization and declining solidarity, and in his message of non-violence.

Bonga's Recados de Fora (Messages from Elsewhere)
The singer, now 73 years old, started life as the son of a fisherman, became a successful athlete, and then had to go into exile after working in support of Angola’s independence from Portugal. The story goes that he used various pseudonyms and carried messages between pro-independence groups who opposed the then regime (the country achieved sovereignty in 1975).

He permanently took on the name Bonga in 1972, and recorded his first album in the Netherlands that same year, Angola 72. Its leading song Mona Ki Ngi Xica contained lyrics that were deemed seditious by the Angolan authorities and a warrant was issued for his arrest, forcing him to continue on the move.

Bonga lived in various European countries and settled for a time in France, where he met many other artists who had fled military dictatorships, according to biographical accounts. He made his second album, Angola 74, with musicians who had escaped brutal regimes in South America, for instance.

The early songs were uncompromising, in politics and artistry, and the same can be said of those on Recados de Fora, even with the danceable tunes such as Tonokenu and the title track. But the morna stands out in the compilation, as Bonga returns to a part of his roots with Odji Maguado, a performance in homage to the influential Cape Verdean songwriter B. Leza. This is a song that Évora made popular in the 1990s, and Bonga does it justice in his own way. 

For more information about the albums: