Senegal revives African culture festival, 33 years later(Read article summary)
Senegal is hosting the World Festival of Black Arts and Culture for the first time since 1966, when it showed potential for significant growth. Today, the president says, 'it's time to believe again.'
â€˘ A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
Senegalâ€™s capital city, Dakar, has repainted mosques, reopened stadiums, lined thoroughfares with African flags, and erected acres of glimmering resident lofts for the 2,000 African artists coming to the first World Festival of Black Arts and Culture in 33 years.
For the West African government, the festival is a showpiece to assert Senegalâ€™s rank as a leading destination for African art and intelligentsia. For its thousands of attendees, flying in from at least 70 countries, itâ€™s a 21st-century edition of an old traveling gala, founded during the heyday of Pan-African thought: a venue where African art can be not just exhibited, but exalted.
The last time Dakar hosted the festival, in 1966 (the second festival was held in 1977 in Lagos, Nigeria), it seemed possible to imagine the worldâ€™s poorest continent transforming itself into a single steel-girded, hydroelectrified superpower: the United States of Africa. Four difficult, coup-marred decades later, that vision remains a fetching idea that inspires more college papers than actual policy.
But at the lavish opening ceremony of the 21-day festival on Dec. 10, Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade told his audience that itâ€™s time to believe again. â€śWe must keep working,â€ť the octogenarian crowed to a stadium crowd.
Alongside an acrobatic dance reenactment of African history, Baba Maal, the Sahel regionâ€™s most renowned pop griot, recounted the history of the medieval kingdom of Mali, a once-flourishing civilization. Then he offered a forecast: â€śThe third millennium is going to flow out of Africa.â€ť
For visiting academics meeting on topics such as â€śThe Role of Women in the African Renaissanceâ€ť and â€śYes or No: Were the Ancient Egyptians Black?â€ť the festival offers more than a parade of singers, slam poets, filmmakers, and novelists. Itâ€™s also a chance for this diverse continent to create an African art canon with a common narrative of the continentâ€™s moment in the world, says David Murphy, a professor of Senegalese art at the University of Stirling in Scotland.
LĂ©opold Senghor, Senegalâ€™s philosopher-president (1960-80) who founded the festival, â€śwanted to present Africa as a source of rich, high civilization, some-thing like Greece,â€ť says Professor Murphy. Considering the expenses Senegalâ€™s current president has accrued to trumpet a new African Renaissance â€“ including a $27 million statue to the concept â€“ itâ€™s fair to wonder if the modern Greece could afford such a gala.