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African Women in Music, Theater, and Performance  

Adedayo L. Abah

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.

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Festac 77: A Black World’s Fair  

Andrew Apter

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.

Article

Bollywood in Africa  

Ned Bertz

The presence of Bollywood films in Africa has a long history, one embedded in larger cultural and commodity exchanges between the continent and South Asia. “Bollywood” is a modern signifier for older film industries located in colonial and postcolonial India, with the largest export being commercial Hindi-Urdu movies produced in Bombay. Their circulation played out distinctly in different parts of Africa, based on colonial connections, Indian diasporic networks, regional trading linkages, and audience tastes. East Africa first saw the arrival of Indian films in the 1920s, imported by diasporic Indian entrepreneurs who opened movie theaters and screened Hollywood and British films as well. Indian and African communities both consumed Bombay movies and they increasingly came to lead East African box office shares for decades, even as moviegoing declined toward the end of the 20th century. Bollywood films reached South Africa in the 1930s and later were the preserve of isolated Indian communities under Apartheid in cities like Durban, home to a large South Asian population as a result of colonial indentured labor flows. Hindi and Tamil movies formed a cultural touchstone for settled diasporic populations who engaged with representations from a perceived homeland, although Bollywood films were mainstreamed in South African society in the 1990s. In West Africa, lacking robust Indian diasporic networks, Lebanese traders introduced Bollywood films in the 1950s. They became immensely popular among African audiences in places like northern Nigeria and Senegal. As in East Africa, West African audiences interpreted foreign films in line with localized cultural and political values. By the 1990s, Nigerians were making some movies that riffed off popular Indian films in a global milieu of cultural mixing. In North Africa, distributors first marketed Indian movies in the 1950s to Egypt, where they attained a cult following. Bollywood stars and paraphernalia gained social prominence, although the public screening of films dwindled in the 1990s, forcing Arab fans to rely on alternate circulations, which continued into the early 21st century throughout the continent thanks to satellite television and other media technologies. The long-standing popularity of Bollywood in Africa should be no surprise given the worldwide spread of Bombay films from their inception, a tradition of exchange between South Asia and Africa, especially across Indian Ocean and imperial worlds, and Africans’ historically vigorous participation in regional and global cultural economies.

Article

Nation and Ethnicity in American Performance and Theater  

Heather S. Nathans

Scholars have long wrestled with definitions of what might constitute “American” performance or theater. Early 19th-century histories defined it in strictly white, largely anti-British terms, imagining an art form that could instruct citizens of the newly created nation in lessons of civic virtue. In his History of American Theatre (1832), playwright, theater manager, and theater historian William Dunlap described theater as a “powerful engine” for a democratic state. Subsequent theater historians would catalog records of “firsts”—such as the first American stars (including Edwin Forrest and Charlotte Cushman), or the first long-running American dramatic hits (including The Drunkard or Uncle Tom’s Cabin). The roles of women and racial or ethnic minorities were frequently relegated to the anecdotal or the exceptional. In the wake of the Civil War, and with the expansion of the frontier, definitions of American theater grew more capacious, encompassing more amateur, popular, and immigrant performances as new groups struggled to establish footholds in American culture. The turn into the 20th century and the unfolding series of civil rights movements on behalf of women, LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered, and queer) citizens, people of color, and people with disabilities rapidly transformed the nation’s theatrical landscape. Groups that had found themselves represented by others onstage discovered new opportunities for creative expression in the playhouse. Over the past twenty-five years, theater scholars have shifted away from a narrative of “firsts” and national exceptionalism toward a more nuanced series of intertwined histories that illuminate the complex discourses of national and ethnic identity in American culture. Their work has revealed a performance community—whether in the playhouse or on the streets—constantly struggling to create workable definitions of citizenship and belonging. Theater artists have never stopped pushing themselves and their audiences to challenge definitions of national identity. Their work invites contemporary students to expand their understanding of what constitutes the canon of “American” theater.