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:

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