Photo: Delegation from Guinea with posters of Guinean president Sekou Toure
During the summer of ’69, four thousand artists representing thirty-one nations and six African liberation groups converged on Algiers, Algeria for ten mind blowing days. Conceived by member states of the Organization of African Unity two years earlier, the Pan African Cultural Festival was envisioned to be a “presentation of modern and traditional theater, dance, music and art exhibitions.” In the words of the Algerian President Boumedienne the festival was going to be a “passionate outpouring of cultural nationalism.” Poets, dancers, musicians, photographers, intellectuals, freedom fighters, politicians, diplomats, and journalists all descended on Algiers to share in a transnational dialogue on the future of African unity.
In addition to performances, panel discussions were held to address the state of continental political affairs. One of the more pertinent philosophical questions put on the discussion table was: Can culture be used as a weapon of liberation? Festival participants didn’t reach much of a consensus, and unfortunately conflicting political positions overshadowed the dynamic musical exchange on display. However, the festival was one those rare moments in history where one could get directly exposed to the musical genius of Africa and her diaspora.
Photo: Eldridge Cleaver, leader of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense
Photo: Live performance by Archie Shepp, Ted Joans, and others.
For Moroccan born French photographer, Bruno Barbey, the festival provided the chance to visually document all things associated with African arts and culture as it all converged in the North African capitol city. Barbey was particularly captivated by the presence of Black Panthers, African American political activists who were forced into exile and living in Algiers and other African countries such as Eldridge Cleaver and Stokely Carmichael. When covering the Panthers by day, Barbey snapped a number of photographs of the live musical performances by a bad ass delegation of African American artists, including jazz saxaphonist Archie Shepp; the poets Haki Madhubuti and Ted Joans; jazz vocalist Nina Simone; jazz drummer Max Roach; writer Nathan Hare; playwright Ed Bullins; and gospel singer Marian Williams.
Photo: Stokely Carmichael
Over the course of those ten glorious days of reconnection and rebirth in Algiers, where spoken word and free jazz licks blended with African folk sounds, Barbey and his camera somehow managed to skillfully bear witness to an intriguing historical and transcultural exchange.