How FESTAC ’77 was Celebrated in Lagos, Nigeria in 1977

Nigerian delegation with a sailor holding the FESTAC '77 sign at the opening ceremony. © Marilyn Nance
Nigerian delegation with a sailor holding the FESTAC ’77 sign at the opening ceremony. © Marilyn Nance

The Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, popularly known as FESTAC ’77, was a boisterous cultural celebration which took place in Lagos, Nigeria, from January 15 1977 to February 12 1977.

 

FESTAC ’77 celebrated the cultures and traditions of Africa and as well presented African artworks, literature, religion and music to the world. The history of FESTAC is traced back to the 1940s when certain ideas were developed on Pan-Africanism and Negritude by Senegalese president Leopold Sedar Senghor, Aime Cesaire and others.

Festac 77 Crowd at Nigeria’s National Stadium in Surulere, Photo by Tam Fiofori
Festac 77 Crowd at Nigeria’s National Stadium in Surulere, Photo by Tam Fiofori

FESTAC ’77 was the largest pan-African gathering as at the period it was held. Nigeria was called upon to host the second Festac festival after the end of the first one which was held in Dakar, Senegal from 1st to 24th of April, 1966. The festival was to take place in 1970, but due to the Nigerian civil war (1967-1970), it was postponed to 1977.

FESTAC ’77 was attended by about 17,000 people from 56 nations. The festival paved way for the construction of Festac Town and the National Theatre in Lagos. The Nigerian government built Festac Town to accommodate the 17,000 and above participants. The main reason Festac Town was built was to cut the accommodation problem and pressure Lagos was likely to face during the festival.

Crowd at the opening ceremony on January 15, 1977. PHOTO: TAM FIOFORI
Crowd at the opening ceremony on January 15, 1977. PHOTO: TAM FIOFORI

The festival commenced at 9 a.m on the 15th of January, 1977. The opening ceremony took place inside the National Stadium, Surulere, Lagos, where many participants held a parade to welcome visiting dignitaries and the Nigerian Head of State, Olusegun Obasanjo.

FESTAC ’77 has the royal Benin ivory mask of Queen Idia as its emblem. A Sango priest entertained the crowd by setting the festival bowl aflame and a thousand Pigeons were released to signify the liberation and oneness of the Black nations.

King Sunny Ade & His African Beats – Vol. 5 - Festac '77 cover with Queen Idia emblem.
King Sunny Ade & His African Beats – Vol. 5 – Festac ’77 cover with Queen Idia emblem. © Discogs

Several dramas and musical shows were staged at the Tafawa Balewa Square in the afternoons and evenings. Musicians like South African Miriam Makeba, Stevie Wonder, Louis Moholo, Sun Ra Arkestra and many more rocked musical concerts and sent their fans dancing wild.

Attending countries exhibited their artworks at the National Theatre, at the Nigerian National Museum and some other places around the Tafawa Balewa Square.

Regatta in the occasion of Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, 15. January - 12. February, 1977, Lagos. © Halina Rautavaara
Regatta in the occasion of Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, 15. January – 12. February 1977, Lagos. © Halina Rautavaara

“At the Square, each country represented at the festival was given a booth to exhibit their paintings, musical instruments, woven cloths, books and art objects. Some other notable exhibitions that took place were Africa and the Origin of Man, which was held at the National Theatre, and Ekpo Eyo’s 2000 Years of Nigerian Art, which included Nok terracottas, Benin court art, Igbo Ukwu, Ife and Tsoede bronzes and art objects“.

Another exhilarating event at the festival was the boat regatta held at the Queen’s Drive Foreshore in Ikoyi, Lagos, which lasted for three days. The participants of the boat regatta were mainly from Nigeria. More than 250 boats carrying acrobats, masquerades and singers displayed at the occasion.

Grand Dubar in Kaduna State, 1977. © Halina Rautavaara
Grand Dubar in Kaduna State, 1977. © Halina Rautavaara

FESTAC ’77 participants also attended the Dubar festival in Kaduna which lasted for three days. There was a gallant display of horse riding, masquerading, Kakaki trumpeting and many more.

List of countries that attended FESTAC ’77

Kenya, Zaire, Congo, Benin, Cameroon, Gabon, Mauritius, Niger, Somalia, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Malagasy, Mauritania, Botswana, Lesotho, Chad, Central Africa, Upper Volta, Morocco, Angola, Senegal, Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland, Ghana, Libya, Zambia, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Sudan, Algeria, Mali, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, Liberia, Ethiopia, Ivory Coast, Tanzania, Uganda and Gambia. Some South American countries were also present at the festival, e.g Guyana, Cuba, Haiti, Brazil. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados and so on represented the Caribbean. The United States of America also sent their representatives from different countries.

United States delegation at FESTAC '77, Lagos, Nigeria.
United States delegation at FESTAC ’77, Lagos, Nigeria.

An anthem was written for FESTAC ’77 by Margaret Walker from Alabama, USA, while the music was produced by Akin Euba from Nigeria. Below is the lyrics of the anthem titled, For My People.

FESTAC ’77 Anthem

1. Let a new earth arise
Let another world be born
Let a bloody peace
Be written in the sky.
Refrain: Festac 77 is here

2. Let a second generation
Full of courage issue forth
Let a people loving freedom
Come to growth
Refrain: Festac 77 is here

NEW NIGERIAN, Monday, 17 January 1977. FESTAC Festival, 1977.
NEW NIGERIAN, Monday, 17 January 1977. FESTAC Festival, 1977. ASIRI.

3. Let a beauty full of healing
And strength of final clenching
be the pulsing in our spirits
And our blood
Refrain: Festac 77 is here

4. Let the martial songs be written
Let the dirges disappear
Let the race of men now rise
And take control
Refrain: Festac 77 is here

FESTAC ’77 will forever remain a remarkable celebration in the history of Nigeria.

References:

  • BKV Editor 3. (2020, May 23). Sun Ra & Africa. The Complete File on the Arts and Media in Nigeria.
  • University of Michigan. African Art After Independence, 1957-1977.