Some 45 years ago, the second World Black and African Festival of Arts tagged FESTAC’77 was held in Nigeria and brought together over 15,000 participants from over 70 black and African countries and communities worldwide. It was indeed a showcase of rich cultural heritage that resonates till date. Which is why come December, 2022, the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation is set to commemorate the 45th anniversary of FESTAC’77 with more pomp and panache, Chiemelie Ezeobi reports
Some 45 years ago, history was made right here in Nigeria, Lagos to be precise, when the largest pan-African gathering took place named the Second Festival of Black Arts and Culture (FESTAC’77) from Saturday, January 15, 1977 to Saturday, February 12, 1977.
At the time it took place, it was the second celebration of World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture as the first edition was held in Dakar, Senegal in 1966.
Why was it the largest Pan-African gathering? The festival brought together over 15,000 participants from over 70 black and African countries and communities worldwide. Also, at the
official opening ceremony at National Stadium, Lagos, contingents from over 47 countries paraded before government officials, visiting heads of states and crowd of over 100,000 persons.
At the festival, the major activities that took place were Dance, Music, Arts & Exhibitions, Drama, Colloquium, Boat regatta and the Durbar, which featured over 3000 horses in Kaduna State.
With the Grand Patron of FESTAC ’77 as President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was then a Lt. General of the Nigerian Armed Forces and the Head of the Federal Military Government, the event was an assembly of Blacks and Africans all over the world that held for a whole month in Nigeria and brought people of all races and nationalities to Nigeria in celebration of their Arts and Culture.
Meanwhile, the President of the second World Black and African Festival of Arts was Cmrd. O.P. Fingesi, who was then Nigeria’s Commissioner for Special Duties.
Herald of National Theatre
In fact, according to information curated by Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC), the construction of the National Theatre was completed in 1976 in preparation for the festival in 1977.
The National Theatre was established, with regard to the presentation, preservation and promotion of Arts and Culture in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. Therefore, the theatre kicked off its operations with FESTAC ’77.
However, while most of the events took place at the National Theatre, Iganmu, others happened at the National Stadium in Surulere, the Tafawa Balewa Square (TBS)and the Lagos City Hall and even the Durbar at Kaduna.
Countries that participated came from worldwide and included most of the African countries such as Gambia, Senegal, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Ghana, Libya, Zambia, Togo, Guinea Bissau, Sudan, Algeria, Mali, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Liberia, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, Zaire and Congo.
Others include Benin, Cameroun, Gabon, Mauritius, Niger, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Malagasy, Mauritania, Botswana, Lesotho, Chad, Central Africa, Upper Volta, Morocco, and Angola.
USA came with representatives from several different states; South American countries included Brazil, Guyana, Cuba, Haiti; Europe had representatives from England, and Ireland.
Australia had representatives from their continent; Canada had its own representatives, while the Caribbean was represented by Antigua, Barbados, Grenada, Bahamas, Jamaica, Trinidad & Tobago.
According to CBAAC reports, performers in drama, literature, music and dance included Miriam Makeba; Osibisa; Letta Mbulu; the Angolan Modern Orchestra (one of many other Orchestras from many countries); the Nigerian Music Troupe; the Nigerian Dance Troupe; National Ballet groups from Algeria, Zaire, Congo, etc.
Others include the Aboriginal Dance Troupe from Australia; Ghana Festival Dance Co.; Darlene Blackburn, D.C. Repertory and Alvin Ailieys Dance Troupes (USA); Harambe Dancers (Kenya); Modern Pop Ensemble (Nigeria); Afro 70 Band (Tanzania); among several dance and music troupes and ensembles, national ballet groups, Orchestras, Drama groups.
Birth of Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation
Essentially, the Centre for Black and African Arts and Civilisation (CBAAC) was borne after the successful hosting and all the materials from the festival handed over to CBAAC to add to the pool of knowledge on African Culture and Civilisation.
Relieving FESTAC’77 @ 45
Now CBAAC is geared to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the festival. Which is why come December 5 to 11, 2022 at the Eagle Square, Abuja, CBAAC is hosting a program titled Celebrating Black and African Arts and Civilisation: Reliving FESTAC’77.
Championing this initiative is the cerebral CBAAC DG, Hon. Oluwabunmi Amao, who kicked plans in motion since last year but launched action early this year. One of the first salvo she drew was to make veteran actress and Nollywood favourite, Sola Sobowale the face of the festival.
On the festival she said: “Being the organisation established after (FESTAC’77), CBAAC is in custody of all the materials including Artefacts, Art Works, Footages of Performances and all other collections exhibited by the 59 Black and African Countries that participated in FESTAC’77.
“FESTAC’77 @ 45 is designed to be a weeklong event packed with activities to showcase diverse cultural expressions and entertainment which include Music, Dance, Poetry, Folklore, Drama, traditional Cuisines/Food Fair, Arts and Craft Exhibitions, Cultural Variety Night etc.
“This would afford artists and culture practitioners on both the African Continent, the Diaspora as well as other countries of the world the platform to promote and encourage their diverse creative expressions/elements, products and art forms.”
Minister of Foreign Affairs Throws Weight Behind CBAAC
True to type, the centre has tapped in on partnerships to ensure the event is a roaring success. One of such partnerships was that of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
During a courtesy call by Hon. Amao ans team, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyeama assured CBAAC of the support and partnership of his ministry.
The partnership with the ministry is quite strategic given that they intend to engage countries that participated at FESTAC’77 as well as other nations who now have bilateral relations with Nigeria, especially, in the areas of cultural exchange and development through their Embassies in Nigeria.
According to the DG, the collaboration is important as the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs is the institution responsible for the bilateral interface with other foreign countries and also the ministry’s expertise in reaching out to diplomatic communities in order to guarantee the success of the upcoming event.
Some CBAAC team in the delegation included Mrs. Agbi Patience, Deputy Director; Ms. Nwoye Henrietta. U, Head, Finance & Accounts; Mr. Emmanuel Anachuna, Head, Procurement; Mr. Odogu Simon, Mr. Manji Diyal, SSA to the Director-General; Mr. Julius Igiri, Curator, Mr, Dimeji Lawal; Mrs. Christiana Olugbenle and Mrs. Sinmiloluwa A. Adedeji Esq.
Fusion with the National Troupe of Nigeria
Also in its kitty was the fusion with National Troupe of Nigeria (NTN). Led by its Artistic Director, Alhaji Ahmed Mohammed Ahmed, the NTN team paid a courtesy/official visit to the Abuja Liaison office of CBAAC to explore areas of partnership and collaboration in projecting the forthcoming event.
While expressing her delight at the unalloyed relationship existing between the two agencies since the Artistic Director came on board, Hon Amao said it has been one of mutual interests as the two agencies have depicted vested interests in the growth and development of Black and African Arts and Culture overtime.
In response, the A.D of NTN pledged his agency’s support towards the forthcoming event and as well commended the D.G and her team for the great efforts that have been made so far.
South African Collaboration
Still as part of measures to ensure a smooth event, the CBAAC train recently moved to the South African High Commission, Abuja.
After a warm reception by the South African Deputy High Commissioner, Dr Bobby J. Moroe, the D.G recalled to the ambassador some of the remarkable events of FESTAC while making
references to the epoch performance of the South African Music ace, Miriam Makeba, as well the Epitombe Cultural Troupe and the Amandla symbol of struggle in the Centre’s archives, as testimonies of the brilliant contributions of the South African delegation at FESTAC’77.
Worthy of note also was Nelson Mandela’s visit to CBAAC office in Nigeria after his release from prison to collect his Certificate of Citizenship of Glasgow which was as at that time in the centre’s custody.
Therefore, the D.G sought for the full participation and partnership of South African Government at the centre’s forthcoming event to showcase the rich cultural heritage of the country and also to promote cultural dialogue between the Nigeria and South Africa.
According to Hon. Amao, “the Arts and Culture of the South African people is very dynamic and we consider it quite of immense importance to be fully incorporated in this programme.
“To this end, Exhibition Pavilion would be made available for each participating Country/High Commission at a token fee as indicated in our promotional brochure. Spaces for Goodwill messages/adverts at different rates in our programme brochure for the event is also available”.
In response, the Deputy High-Commissioner expressed the South African Commission’s interest to collaborate with the Centre towards the actualisation of the event.
He promised to visit the Centre’s Black and African Hall of Fame in due course and also to give the centre all the necessary assistance where possible towards the success of the event.
Also present at the courtesy visit was Mr Thabang Malope, the third secretary of the South African High Commission and key members of staff of CBAAC which included Mrs Patience Agbi, Deputy Director & Head, Abuja Liaison Office; Ms Henrietta Nwoye, Head of Finance & Accounts; and Mr. Manji Diyal, the Coordinator, Festac ’77 @45.
Meanwhile, CBAAC took the message to the Libyan Ambassador to Nigeria, Ambassador Ayad M.F Attayary to explore areas of partnership and collaborations between Nigeria and Libya towards the success of the forthcoming event.
According to the D.G, the Libyan Contingent had some of the most remarkable performances and participation in different Art forms during FESTAC ’77. The footages and archival materials available in the Centre’s custody are testimonials to the outstanding feats the Libyans achieved in Nigeria during FESTAC ’77. In this regard, a replication of the Country’s historical performance 45 years ago would be something to look forward to this year. The D.G also used the opportunity of the visit to invite the Libyan Ambassador to the Black and African Hall of Fame at the Centre, while she also sought for a full participation of the Libyan Government and people at the forthcoming event in a bid to showcase their rich cultural heritage and also to promote a bi-lateral cultural relation between the two countries.
The Ambassador, His Excellency, Ayad M.F Attayary responded in good faith and stated that the embassy would be glad to invite some other organisations to participate at the event.
He further promised on behalf of the Libyan Government through its commission in Nigeria to give their utmost support towards the programme as it would be an opportunity for African Nations to celebrate those aspects of our culture that unifies the continent. He also expressed interest and assured the D.G of his visit to the Centre’s Black and African Hall of Fame to watch the visuals of Libya’s participation at FESTAC’77.
Also in attendance at the meeting was the first secretary of the Embassy of Libya, Mr. Abdul-Moeine Gargoum, and other key officials of CBAAC.
This would afford artists and culture practitioners on both the African Continent, the Diaspora as well as other countries of the world the platform to promote and encourage their diverse creative expressions/elements, products and art forms
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