Find out about the twisted legacy of the great black festival
Despite huge efforts for FESTAC 77 to celebrate black culture it ended up being an event that left a controversial trail.
Prior to 1977, African art was arguably subordinate in originality and style due to its anonymity to the world outside Africa.
Regardless of individual perception, 1977 was a pivotal year in Black History.
First, the monumental 'Roots' was released and became a fundamental theme for Afrocentrism, FESTAC '77 was a pivotal celebration of back artistry and African music virtuoso, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti found his identity. The central theme to all these events; they were vehicles for the allure African.
What is Afrocentrism?
'Afrocentrism' or 'Afrocentricity' is simply the appreciation for art and culture of African origin, through contemporary history.
Some historians have pegged it as a response to 'Eurocentrism’s' continued derogation of the efficacy of African art and culture due to racism and sentimental documentation.
Nonetheless, Afrocentrism is mostly associated with Western folks of African descent - the Africans do not really have to celebrate what is their everyday life except when they simply enjoy.
Historically, the idea of Western Afrocentrism, though with filled with a need to identify with roots, over an environment where derogation of ethnicity, it was also subject to some thirty for uniqueness by some sections.
In perfect order, the chronology of events and their relevance is Roots, the awakening; then FESTAC '77, the activity; and Fela, the legacy.
Due of these factors, deeper exploration and appreciation for African art and culture caught Western attention and its brilliance could no longer be denied.
In essence, 1977 might be argued as progeny to 2012 and 2017/2018.
Fittingly, Nigeria is at the centre of it all. She hosted the pivotal unification of black culture that was FESTAC '77.
Uchenna Ikonne, writing for Red Bull Academy on May 13, 2017 called it "the perfect opportunity for Nigeria to flaunt its newfound status as a prosperous petro-state, demonstrating its worthiness of the nickname 'the Giant of Africa'."
What Was FESTAC '77?
The Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture is now known as FESTAC '77. It was held in Lagos, Nigeria. The first festival was held circa 1966 in Dakar, Senegal.
It commenced on January 15, 1977 and lasted for 17 days. The event accumulated 17,000 artistes from 55 nations, across Africa, The Americas, Europe, Canada and The Islands to celebrate culture.
Fittingly, it was held in the thick of racial tensions and black need for a source of identity. It duly provided that and more. Black people stormed Lagos with vitriol.
It's success created a notoriety that almost makes FESTAC '66 irrelevant.
Also, according to Uchenna Ikonne, renowned poet and former Senegalese President Leopold Sedar Senghor was instrumental in using Nigeria as a beacon of unification.
He declared, "Nigeria is to Africa what Greece was and still is to the history of Europe."
Before The Event
Preparations kicked off around 1965, but by 1967, Nigerian became embroiled in a civil war. It's South Eastern zone, fronted by General Odumegwu Ojukwu wanted cessation to become an independent state, Biafra.
Fears mounted about whether the target could be met, or worse, as Uchenna put it "The question was not whether Nigeria would be prepared to host the festival, but whether Nigeria itself would still exist."
Despite the Civil War coming to a sudden end in 1970, with Yakubu Gowon as President, the Fela story had been forming over the past few years.
How FESTAC '77 Created Entitlement to National Wealth
While the idea of FESTAC '75 took a hit over obvious reasons of instability and uncertainties. The nail in the coffin was however the deposition of Yakubu Gowon in a 1975 coup d'etat.
His successor swiftly and indefinitely suspended preparations for FESTAC '75.
While he later prepared for a FESTAC '76 due to pressure from other committed countries, he was assassinated in 1976 by an abortive coup led by Lt. General Olusegun Obasanjo. He ramped up plans for FESTAC '77.
Funds were committed and efforts were heightened. Spendings were aided by Nigeria's sudden emergence as an energy force.
Financially, this was the best man Nigerian era but it was equally the worst; a time of gross mismanagement and lack of vision that rubber stamped the shambles and failure Nigeria now represents.
An Era Of Madness
On this, Uchenna states that "In 1971 Nigeria had joined the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries... OPEC’s imposition of an oil embargo in 1973 resulted in the price of oil skyrocketing four times over, making Nigeria suddenly, startlingly affluent. The strength of Nigeria’s currency, the Naira, even dwarfed the US dollar, with ₦1.00 trading for $1.60 by 1976."
Uchenna reports a famous Gowon quote that “money is not Nigeria’s problem, but how to spend it”. Nigeria spent the money on infrastructures, facilities and centric constructions for FESTAC '77 hit over $300million in '70s dollar.
Nigeria's wealth at the time meant funds can be embezzled without significant negative effects on the Nation's economy. The system slowly became our fabric and our future got shortchanged by lack of vision.
A nation that fails to visualize into its own vision is doomed to fail and that's the Nigerian story. It wasn't just about positively investing our wealth either.
We failed to realize the concept of potential hard times. We allowed ourselves be deceived by momentary wealth and selfishly shared it in parts amongst ourselves.
This trend of entitlement to our nation's wealth is the ditch we are still in - even in recession, grabbing what we can is still our culture.
While corruption might be part of Nigerian fabric as some claim, metaphysical determinism can only be back up by the events of 1977 and how it laid down an unsustainable system - dynamic suicide.
A gauntlet represents the accepted norm. 1977 created the Nigerian norm of entitlement to National wealth that ha since festered into near-incurable corruption.
Fela and FESTAC 77
As he is famed for, Fela strongly criticized the government's spendings. He was also billed for membership on FESTAC’s National Participation Committee, comprising dramatist Hubert Ogunde, writer Wole Soyinka and filmmaker Ola Balogun.
However, he soon resigned from the committee and naturally, Ogunde, Soyinka and Balogun left with him in activism.
They refused to be chaired by Major General I.B.M. Haruna, the Commissioner for Information. On this, Fela said "He started demagoguing, man... Saying he was ‘open’ to fresh ideas and that kind bullshit. So I resigned.”
Even he couldn't have predicted the storm his press conference to decry the festival would have caused. He told his biographer, Carlos Moore who wrote Fela: This Bitch of a Life that “I didn’t know that my resigning would cause so much shit. You see, the stage was being set for a very serious confrontation. But I didn’t know it.”
The real tale though was how Fela suffered at the hands of the Nigerian Military over his activism. As the 29-day FESTAC '77 went live, Fela unrepentantly boycotted it and started hosting shows at Kalakuta Republicin a celebration to criticize the Nigerian Government.
Slowly, his showings created a buzz and major artistes started boycotting major events and performances at FESTAC '77 to go savour some Fela magic.
Chyke Madu of The Funkees was documented by Uchenna Ikonne as saying "What Fela was doing at the Shrine was more exciting and more raw than any other programs at the festival."
Kalakuta Republic became an alternative or as some quarters claim "the main event" to FESTAC '77. Superstars like Stevie Wonder, Hugh Masekela, Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso were hosted nightly. Sadly, it all had consequences. Fela had defied the military government of Olusegun Obasanjo.
Soldiers raided Fela just a week after the successful completion of FESTAC '77. They pillaged and shot at people after a dispute with Fela's boys.
Despite the uncertainty of the events, Uchenna reports that "Witnesses testified that the military personnel storming Kalakuta numbered over one thousand men... There was no was that many soldiers could have been mobilized without orders from above."
It did not stop there. Fela and his residents were soundly beaten and his Mother was infamously thrown from a second storey window, which later led to her death.
The worst part as Uchenna reports was how Fela's cash from his the recently signed one million-dollar deal with Afrodisia Records was carted away by soldiers.
The British Denial and Magnanimity
In the events leading up to FESTAC '77, the Nigerian Government made a $3 million loan to the British Museum for the Mask of Idia - a 16th Century sculpture depicting the Queen Mother of the Benin Empire.
The reason was FESTAC organizers had selected it as official emblem for the event. The request was rejected. The reason was that "the mask was too fragile to withstand overseas transportation". Nigeria had to make a replica.
The British Government rejected our offer for a stolen artifact of proven Nigerian origin.
The history of appropriation of Black art typifies the hypocrisy Black art now enjoys across the West. While FESTAC '77 and Roots forced the Western world to acknowledge African artistic brilliance, it only recently started celebrating it again - post Fela.
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