International Conference

20-22 October, 2016



Keynote speakers: Andrew Apter (UCLA), Cheryl Finley (Cornell University), Souleymane Bachir Diagne (Columbia University)

 Co-organizers: Tsitsi Jaji (University of Pennsylvania), Martin Munro (FSU), David Murphy (University of Stirling)

In April 1966, thousands of artists, musicians, performers and writers from across Africa and its diaspora gathered in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, to take part in the First World Festival of Black and African Culture (Premier Festival Mondial des arts nègres). The festival constituted a highly symbolic moment both in the era of decolonization and the push for civil rights for African Americans in the United States. In essence, the festival sought to perform an emerging pan-African culture, to give concrete cultural expression to the ties that would bind the African ‘homeland’ to black people in the diaspora. On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Dakar ’66, this conference seeks to examine the festival and its multiple legacies, in order to help us better to understand both the utopianism of the 1960s and the ‘festivalization’ of Africa that has occurred in recent decades. The conference is also interested in exploring the role of colonial exhibitions and world’s fairs in establishing a set of representational frameworks that would later be contested but also sometimes (unwittingly) adopted by black/African groups in the aftermath of the Second World War.

The Dakar festival was the first, and one of the most significant, attempts to perform and translate African culture in the era of decolonization, forging in the space of the festivalscape a rich, multifaceted, ephemeral, unstable but highly charged sense of a shared Pan-African culture. The conference is interested in exploring whether cultural Pan-Africanism as posited in postcolonial festivals acted as a complete rejection of the representations of blackness in colonial exhibitions or whether it  sometimes in fact continued such tropes, and if so, how?

The festival was organized in the middle of a period extending from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s during which a wide range of cultural, sporting and political organizations were created, and major events were held, all of which were informed by Pan-Africanist ideals. In terms of festivals alone, the 1966 Dakar event was followed by hugely ambitious Pan-African cultural festivals in Algiers (Algeria) in 1969 and in Lagos (Nigeria) in 1977. From an early twenty-first century perspective, the Pan-African ethos of the period appears strikingly utopian. Nonetheless, the Pan-African ideal has endured, in particular in the domain of culture. Indeed, it might be argued that it was the series of cultural festivals organized in the aftermath of decolonization that marked the most meaningful articulations of Pan-Africanism. As was argued above, these festivals witnessed the ‘performance’ of a Pan-African culture, and they facilitated concrete encounters between Africans and members of the diaspora that forged a new and profound sense of cultural affiliation. For instance, in his autobiography, Music is my Mistress (1973), the great US jazz musician Duke Ellington wrote of his performance in Dakar in 1966: ‘the cats in the bleachers really dig it. […] It is acceptance of the highest level and it gives us a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of having broken through to our brothers’.

If Pan-African cultural festivals of the 1960s and 1970s were marked by a profound utopianism, over the past five decades, we have witnessed a growing festivalization of culture across the world from which Africa has not been exempt. There are now literally thousands of festivals held across the continent each year and, in such a context, it is important to assess whether any of the idealism of the past has survived. In 2010, a Third World Festival of Black and African Arts and Culture (widely known as FESMAN) was held in Dakar. For Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade, organizing FESMAN was a process of looking to the future but also of renewing with an idealistic, utopian Pan-Africanist past, which was primarily articulated through evocations of the 1966 Dakar festival, indicating that processes of recuperation, nostalgia and amnesia play a major role when we engage today with landmark but ephemeral cultural events from the past.


Potential topics for papers might include:


• The role of colonial exhibitions/world fairs in establishing parameters for the representation and performance of black/African culture.

• The role of earlier events—e.g. the 1956 (Paris) and 1959 (Rome) African Writers’ Congresses, the Makerere Writers’ conference in 1962, the First International Congress of African Art and Culture (ICAC) organized by Frank McEwen et al in Salisbury in 1962—in paving the way for the 1966 festival and those that followed.

• Case studies drawn from any of the 4 major pan-African festivals of the 1960s-70s: The First World Festival of Black and African Culture 1966; The Algiers Pan-African Cultural Festival 1969; The black music festival held in conjunction with the Rumble in the Jungle (Kinshasa, 1974); The Second World Festival of Black and African Culture (Lagos, 1977).

• The relationship between cultural festivals and the major Pan-African political gatherings of the twentieth century (e.g. the various Pan-African congresses, the creation of the Organisation for African Unity)

• Competing visions of Africa: e.g. the attacks on Negritude in Algiers; tensions between Nigerians and Senegalese before the Lagos festival regarding the inclusion of North Africa.

• (Pan-)African cultural festivals outside of Africa.

• How is the Caribbean history of cultural festivals like Carifesta related to and articulated with similar events in continental Africa?

• Does the Caribbean phenomenon of carnival function as an articulation of pan-Africanism?

• Recuperation, nostalgia, amnesia

• Does festivalization necessarily connote the commodification of culture?

• How do festivals articulate the relationship between “High” and “Popular” culture?

• Cultural pan-Africanism and Political Pan-Africanism

• The performance of identity

• Diasporic engagements with African culture in these festivals

• Print and other media representations of the festivals


Proposals for papers may be submitted here.

Proposals for panels may be submitted here.


Deadline for proposals: 1 February 2016.


For further information, please contact