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First World Festival of Negro Arts (1966): cultural development at the core

Léopold Senghor at the First World Festival of Negro Arts

In acknowledgement of Black History Month, The Royal Gazette continues the publication of stories throughout February on African-American, Black Bermudian and global African people, events and institutions, and their contributions in history

In April 1966, the First World Festival of Negro Arts, which is now known as Fesman, launched its debut as the first modern cultural event celebrating global Black culture.

The festival took place in Dakar, Senegal, and was initiated by Senegalese president Léopold Sédar Senghor, who saw it as a way to emphasise the importance of cultural development of newly independent African nations. The festival’s theme centred around the significance of Black artistry and its role in promoting economic, political and infrastructural development in Africa. Although the event was highlighted by literature, dance, and visual and auditory performances, Senghor hoped to facilitate the identification with African culture and creativity which challenged the prior limitations imposed during the age of colonisation.

The event brought together more than 2,000 writers, artists and musicians from throughout the African diaspora, including 30 independent African nations, to celebrate the vast diversity within Black cultures. Renowned African-American artists, including Langston Hughes, Duke Ellington and Josephine Baker, performed in celebration of Africa’s cultural renaissance, which mirrored their own contributions to the Harlem Renaissance, the jazz age and Negritude.

Festival organisers sought to showcase Black excellence internationally by placing Black art in the company of Picasso, Modigliani and other famous European figures. This artistic illustration of pan-Africanism contributed to the emerging global dialogue on the cultural importance of Africa and to show that the continent, and indeed all African peoples, were no longer bound by their history of oppression and slavery.

The festival celebrated a new-found understanding of pan-Africanism, as different cultural performances from artists around the world showcased the collective identity of “blackness”. It promoted the unity of different ethnic groups within Black communities all over the world and reinforced the global demand for racial equality.

After the events at the festival in Dakar in 1966, the Second World Festival of Negro Arts continued in Lagos, Nigeria, some years later in 1977. This event was the largest pan-African event held in Africa. The most recent festival returned to its origin in Dakar nearly 30 years later in December 2010 to celebrate the significance of pan-Africanism and Black culture.


David Murphy, ed., The Performance of Pan-Africanism: Staging the African Renaissance at the First World Festival of Negro Arts. (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2016; John Povey, “The Dakar Festival of Negro Arts and the Commonwealth”. The Journal of Commonwealth Literature, (2:1) March 1967

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Published February 03, 2023 at 7:57 am (Updated February 03, 2023 at 7:49 am)

First World Festival of Negro Arts (1966): cultural development at the core

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