While women in certain regions of Africa have always enjoyed relatively equal access to view performances and perform publicly, many have not always enjoyed the same access to public performances of their craft. The role of women in music, theater, and performance in Africa has been diminished often by its demotion to the lyrical performances of women to enliven life’s transitions, from celebration of births to rites-of-passage ceremonies, marriages, and funerals. However, African women have always instigated social and political protests through songs and musical performances, imitation, and meaning-charged lyrics. The record and achievements of women as individuals or band-associated public performers were available mostly from the middle of the 20th century. Many African women have broken barriers in the categories of music, theater, and performance through exceptional demonstration of their crafts and talents. Some of them, like Sonah Jobarteh and Jalil Baccar, mostly wielded influence within a specific region of the continent, while some, like Miriam Makeba and Cesária Évora, were well known throughout the continent and globally. These African women compelled the continent, and sometimes the world, to stop and ponder on their talents in the arts of music, theater, and performance.
African Women in Music, Theater, and Performance
Adedayo L. Abah
Festac 77: A Black World’s Fair
From January 15 to February 12, 1977, Nigeria hosted an extravagant international festival celebrating Africa’s cultural achievements and legacies on the continent and throughout its diaspora communities. Named the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (or Festac 77), it was modeled on Léopold Senghor’s inaugural Festival Mondial des Arts Nègres (World Festival of Black Arts, or Fesman) held in Dakar in 1966 but expanded its Atlantic horizons of Africanity to include North Africa, India, Australia, and Papua New Guinea. Festac’s broader vision of the Black and African world was further bolstered by Nigeria’s oil boom, which generated windfall revenues that accrued to the state and underwrote a massive expansion of the public sector mirrored by the lavish scale of festival activities. Festac’s major venues and events included the National Stadium with its opening and closing ceremonies; the state-of-the-art National Theatre in Lagos, with exhibits and dance-dramas linking tradition to modernity; the Lagos Lagoon featuring the canoe regattas of the riverine delta societies; and the polo fields of Kaduna in the north, celebrating the equestrian culture of the northern emirates through their ceremonial durbars. If Festac 77 invoked the history of colonial exhibitions, pan-African congresses, Black nationalist movements, and the freedom struggles that were still unfolding on the continent, it also signaled Nigeria’s emergence as an oil-rich regional and global power. Festac’s significance lies less in its enduring impact than in what it reveals about the politics of festivals in postcolonial Africa.