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Saturday, March 26, 2011

Algeria welcomes Pan-African festival

Thousands of artists and visitors from dozens of African and diaspora nations converged on Algiers for the official start of the second Pan-African Festival. After a 40-year absence, the event returned on Sunday (July 5th), also Algeria's Independence Day, as a large-scale endeavour to revive the continent's culture and arts.

The event, set to run through July 20th, began in spectacular style on Saturday. A grand parade wound through the streets of Algiers, from Sofia Park to Bab-El-Oued. Showboat-style floats from each African participating nation, along with thousands of performers, brought Algiers colourfully to life and raised anticipation for the official opening ceremony on Sunday night.

"Algiers, celebration of Africa, of all Africas, is reinventing the conscience of our identity at the same time as our openness to the universal," declared Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika in a statement read by spokesperson Abdelaziz Belkhadem, during the opening gala.

While the 1969 Pan-African Festival took freedom from the yoke of colonialism and apartheid as its theme, the challenge for Panaf 2009 is to celebrate Africa's "rebirth" and display the continent's finest assets: its culture, music, dance, literature, and history.

Africa, the cradle of humanity, will be celebrated in song this year by Youssou N'dour, Cesaria Evora, Salif Keita, Mory Kanté, Ait Menguellet, Cheb Khaled, Amazigh Kateb, Karim Ziad, Warda, Ismaël Lo, Houria Aïchi, Big Ali, Kassav, Hasna El Becharia, and many others.

Overall, 51 nations are taking part, according to Zouaoui Benhamadi, an officer on the executive organising committee. The United States of America and Brazil are the guests of honour, since they both have significant populations of African origin.

Abdourahman Waberi, a writer from Djibouti, is astonished that Morocco is not represented at the festival.

"I don't know where responsibility lies," Waberi told El Watan. "The conclusion I've drawn is as follows: if Morocco's not there, then it's useless rolling out the red carpet for Swaziland, Cape Verde or any other nation. Unless they can prove to me that the Morocco of Abdellatif Laâbi or the Gnawis is not African."

The event will feature 8,000 African artists and thinkers and some 20,000 local artists. An artists' village with 1,250 beds was set up in Zeralda. Some 22,000 police officers will ensure that Panaf runs smoothly. Checkpoints with explosives detectors will also be set up.

The festival will also welcome Isabelle Adjani, a French actress whose father is Algerian.

The other "star" of the Festival is Lucy. One of the ancestors of humanity, who is on display in the museum of Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) - and who has left the country only once to go to the United States – will be taken to the Bardo Museum in Algiers.

Further, over 200 titles by some of the greatest African authors will be reprinted concurrently with the festival. Various conferences will take place during the festival, dealing with topics ranging from Sufism, to "Africa on the stage", with symposia on "Militant diplomacy in the NEPAD" and "Africa, women and development".

According to the ministry of culture, there will be 500 music and dance performances, with over 2,300 singers and musicians and more than 2,800 dancers across thirty stages in Algiers and other cities. In addition, there will be 41 plays involving more than 450 participants performed at the national theatre and the El-Mouggar hall, and 9 exhibitions involving over 230 artists. Five unprecedented major exhibitions will be open to the public.

"The 2nd Pan-African Cultural Festival is a new chance for Africa to renew its links," said Côte d'Ivoire Minister of Culture Augustin Kouadio Komoe.

"This feels like a more mature festival," commented Sidiki Bakaba, a filmmaker and the director of the Côte d'Ivoire Palace of Culture. "The meeting between African countries will be evident once more in Algiers, but this time there will be more technology, and the performances will therefore be richer, with more magic."

Algerian Minister of Culture Khalida Toumi told Liberté that Panaf 2009 is not a commercial operation, and that it is "the festival of the Algerian people".

"Everything must be free," she said. "The poster shows Africa in fireworks. And, well, that's the programme. All areas of culture will be at their dazzling best."

The decision to hold the Pan-African Festival in Algiers was made at the Khartoum summit in 2006. The African Union unearthed the Port-Louis charter for culture, inspired by the 2001 UNESCO universal declaration on cultural diversity and by the 1969 Algiers Pan-African cultural manifesto.

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