The First World Festival of Negro Arts

The First World Festival of Negro Arts is a 40 minute film by William Greaves

In 1966, in Dakar, Senegal, artists, performers, writers, intellectuals and political leaders from  the  African  Diaspora ─ came together to celebrate  and  debate  the  worldwide renaissance  of  Black  culture  in  the  20th century.  Among the dignitaries who attended were  world  renowned  figures including President  Leopold  Senghor  of  Senegal,  and Emperor  Haile  Selassie  of  Ethiopia; and among  the  intellectuals  were  Aimé  Césaire  of Martinique  and  Alioune  Diop  of  Senegal,  who  led  the  debate  on  the  concept  of “Négritude”.   Many  have  seen  William  Klein’s  seminal  film  on  the  Pan  African Festival  of  Algiers of 1969 featuring interviews with, among others, the exiled artists and the activists of the Black Power and the Anti apartheid Movements.  Like Greaves film it was of its time. Yet this  film  of  the  first  of  these  major  Pan  African  festivals which took  place  three years earlier has been rarely seen in the UK. Capturing the spirit of Africa’s quest for liberation from 19th century colonialism, this  beautifully  shot film of  period  grey  film tones  also captures  the  style,  the  feel, the  artistic  and  cultural  sophistication  of  the people  of Senegal  and  beyond,  and  of  the moment,  framed  with Greaves’ poetic narrative. Featured  artists  include  Duke  Ellington,  Langston  Hughes,  Alvin  Ailey,  and  artists  and performers (some very much of their time) from thirty nations around the world.   But I also  saw  a  young  Ousmane  Sembene  and  others  we  have  come  to  know,  who  are  not mentioned  by  name  in  the  film:    and  there  is a  fleeting  glimpse  of  someone  who  I  am convinced is a young Djbril Diop Mambetey.

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