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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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.

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