Arts + Culture
Photo courtesy of Petronio Álvarez Festival.

This Festival Celebrates the Best Music and Art Coming Out of Colombia's Pacific Black Coast

A look inside the Petronio Álvarez Festival—a five-day fete held in Cali, Colombia.

Every year in August, Cali—Colombia's third largest city—welcomes people from all over the world for the Petronio Álvarez Festival, a five-day feast of traditional music, dance, food, liquor and handicrafts from the country's Pacific coast. And, by doing so, it creates one of the few opportunities—and certainly the largest one—to celebrate the country's often overlooked blackness.

"The Pacific" is one of the five socio-economic regions in which Colombia is divided conceptually, only for simplification purposes. This region traverses parts of four Colombian departments along the country's western coast. It is one of Colombia's poorest areas, lacking infrastructure, as well as educational and job opportunities.

It is also the blackest region of the country. During colonial times, many African slaves were brought here to work on large plantations, mainly sugar cane. Many of them escaped before and after the abolishment of slavery in the country in 1851 into the thick, inaccessible landscapes near the Pacific ocean, and created their own settlements.

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Paul Pogba celebrates after scoring against Portugal during a friendly. Photo: Ajith Kumar (via Flickr/Creative Commons)

France's Blackness

As French scholar Grégory Pierrot points out, "the black players of France are also black players for the entire black world."

The French National Football team has reached its third World Cup final in twenty years. And like when they won it all in 1998, and when they lost in memorable fashion in 2006, their racial makeup seems to be one of the main talking points surrounding them.

In 1998, when France also hosted the tournament, the diverse background of its key players—mainly that of the team's star, Zinedine Zidane, who was born in France to Algerian Berber parents—was used to both celebrate and lament the state of the country as a sort of "melting pot of cultures."

Those who celebrated a team packed with black, Caribbean and Arab players saw its success as proof that France could move forward from its colonial past and into a welcoming, inclusive idea of "Frenchness." Those voices that lamented the same team—mainly heralded by the far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen—saw it as a metaphor for fleeting French values, and the disappearance of the "pureness" (or "whiteness") they wanted for France.

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Photo: Instagram

The Rise of the New Egyptian King, Mohamed Salah

How Mohamed Salah brought Egypt to its first World Cup in 28 years.

When Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos brought down Liverpool's Mohamed Salah during this year's Champions League final in Kiev, it wasn't only Reds fans who feared the worst. Salah, a revelation this season for the English club, but a long-time favorite in his native Egypt, walked off from that match in tears and in a lot of pain, and it looked like he could miss the World Cup.

It would have been a tragedy for Egyptian fans, who had waited for 28 years to return to a World Cup, only to see that the star that finally led their team back to the world stage would risk sitting out from the tournament. And it would have been a tragedy for many neutral fans, who would miss one of the most exciting and explosive players right now performing at the most popular sporting event in the world.

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Photo: Instagram

The Black Colombian Team

This Colombian team, once again, will have a large contingent of black Colombians playing fundamental roles. Their stories might be a perfect example of what's at stake both at the World Cup and for the future of the country.

Colombia will be back at this summer's World Cup in Russia, and after a historical performance four years ago, the country is hopeful for what the national team can bring this time around. Although the squad has changed from the one that played in the Brazil World Cup, this younger side, led by Radamel Falcao García and James Rodríguez, seems to be up to the task of trying to surpass the success from four years ago.

What hasn't changed, however, is the fact that this Colombian team, once again, will have a large contingent of black Colombians playing fundamental roles. And their stories might be a perfect example of what's at stake for Colombia both at the World Cup and for the future of the country.

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