The World Festival of Black Arts - also know as FESMAN - brought hundreds of artists from 80 countries to Senegal this December to celebrate black culture. The festival's theme was African Renaissance and many of the artists, such as Wyclef Jean, sang about uniting the countries of Africa into one United States of Africa.
"If America is the United States of America, then why can't Africa be the United States of Africa?, asked Jean."
Members of the African diaspora who attended the festival spoke of uniting not only the African countries together, but also connecting the diaspora in the United States of America to their heritage in Africa. Thomas Masters, mayor of Riviera Beach, Florida, says he hopes to reach out to the youth of Riviera Beach about what he has encountered at the festival.
"I want to learn about the homeland. I want to learn about partnerships. What we can do," said Masters. "What we can bring to the table. What we can bring back, what resources. I want to talk about and learn about student exchanges in the medical field, trade possibilities, possibilities about people coming over to work on some of the projects here."
As a FESMAN goodwill ambassador, Delois Blakely says she participated in the festival's planning process. She wanted to include hip-hop events to help their message of unity resonate with the youth.
"One of the things that I laid on the heart of the ministers is the inclusion of the hip-hop generation and how important that is, because it be will the young people who will be able to carry on the legacy, the policy and the decision making that we will raise here at this festival," Blakely said.
A woman dances as part of the opening ceremony celebration at the World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar
In addition to music and dancing, the festival included soccer games, photography exhibitions, visits by African presidents and more. Many of the artists stayed together in a housing facility in Dakar's Ngor neighborhood.
Poet Marc Alexandre Oho Bambe says the event was a great chance to share in the idea of a United Africa with other artists from around the continent.
"Pan-Africanism is a beautiful idea. And, like all the beautiful ideas, [we] have to share, we have to share Pan-Africanism. We have to share our Afro-optimism, and we have to learn the young generations to believe in themselves first, in their country, motherland, in Africa," Bambe said. "And, in all the heritage we take from the past. The first FESMAN was a beautiful project and for some persons just an utopia, and utopia and dreams build the world. Utopia and dreams really build the world."
The first festival was held in Dakar in 1966 and was conceived by former Senegalese President Leopold Senghor as a way to celebrate the recent independence of African countries from their colonial powers. The second FESMAN was held in Nigeria in 1977. This year's festival Dakar marked just the third time for the event, as well as a return to its original site.