“A Weapon in Our Struggle for Liberation”: Black Arts, Black Power, and the 1969 Pan-African Cultural Festival

  • Samir Meghelli


“We are still Black and we have come back. Nous sommes revenus [‘We have returned’]. We have come back and brought back to our land, Africa, the music of Africa. Jazz is a Black Power! Jazz is a Black Power! Jazz is an African Power! Jazz is an African music! Jazz is an African music! We have come back!” proclaimed African American poet Ted Joans as he stood before an audience in the overcrowded streets of Algiers, Algeria, at the First Pan-African Cultural Festival in July 1969. He continued the poem, emphasizing his French phrases to ensure the largely Francophone African crowd would understand him: “Nous sommes revenus. Nous sommes les Noirs Americains, les Afro-Americains, les Africains des Etats-Unis. Mais, le premier chose, nous sommes Africains.” [“ We have returned. We are Black Americans, Afro-Americans, Africans of the United States. But foremost, we are Africans.”]1 Next to Ted Joans was an animated and commanding Archie Shepp, pacing across the stage playing his sa xophone. Riding over and through Shepp’s melodies were the rhythms of the Algerian Tuareg2 musicians who stood nearby, beating at their drums. The audience responded with uproarious applause and spurred on what was to become a classic jazz recording, Archie Shepp’s Live at the Panafrican Festival.3 Shortly after the performance, Shepp was interviewed about the experience by the Algerian national newspaper, El Moudjahid. He described the moment’s meaning in personal and political terms: “In my opinion, jazz is the music of all the long-lost Africans in America.


African Continent Central Intelligence Agency Black Panther Party Black Liberation Jazz Musician 
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  1. 1.
    Transcription taken from footage of the Festival in William Klein’s documentary film, Festival Panafricain d’Alger (ONCIC—Office National du Commerce et de l’Industrie Cinématographiques, 1970), as well as from the sound recording, Archie Shepp, Live at the Panafrican Festival (BYG-Actuel 529351, 1969).Google Scholar
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© Timothy Scott Brown and Andrew Lison 2014

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  • Samir Meghelli

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