Cold War Games and the First Pan-African Arts Festival

PARIS – Its goal was to bring together leading intellectuals and artists from Africa and the diaspora, and 50 years ago, the first Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres (World Festival of Negro Arts, or FESMAN) did exactly that.

Played out against the backdrop of the Cold War, with the United States and the former Soviet Union jockeying for influence in Africa, the three-week-long festival took place in Dakar, Senegal, in April 1966, initiated by then President Léopold Sédar Senghor.

It included some world-renowned headliners: writers Wole Soyinka, Aimé Césaire and Langston Hughes; musician Duke Ellington; dancers from the Alvin Ailey troupe; iconic singer and activist Josephine Baker; calypso star Mighty Sparrow – and many others, representing some 45 countries.

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