More than 8,000 artists and writers from all over Africa, as well as Brazil and the United States, are descending on Algeria for a huge cultural festival that kicks off this weekend and runs to July 20.
Algeria is hosting the Second Pan-African Cultural Festival at the request of the African Union, 40 years after the north African country staged the first such event, when several nations were still struggling for independence.
Brazil and the United States are guests at the giant festival, where more than 20,000 Algerian artists will also be taking part, according to Zouaoui Benhamadi of the Panaf II executive committee.
Panaf is the biggest rally in the world of artists and intellectuals in the same place at the same time, which will include all facets of human culture, Benhamadi said.
The festival officially begins on Sunday in Algiers on national independence day, with a megaconcert at a stadium in the capital prepared by choreographer Kamel Ouali.
But Algerians and the many guests will get a first taste on Saturday, when a parade of showboat-style floats representing each African country and the guest nations will roll through Algiers from Tafourah in the city centre to the old Bab El-Oued quarter, a working-class district.
Among those on the bill are Algerian musicians Cheb Khaled and Ouarda El Djazairia, with Senegal s Youssou Ndour and Ismael Lo, Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde, dance troupes from all over Africa, and other musicians, dancers, stage and screen stars like actress Isabelle Adjani, and many less-well known younger performers.
We expect this gathering to lead to an emergence of fresh talent in music, the arts and the other activities on the program, Culture Minister Khalida Toumi said.
We also want this to be a kind of survey of the state of culture in Africa, Toume added.
The festival will not just be in Algiers, for events are scheduled in other towns in the north of the country, including Boumerdes, Blida and Tipaza, where all the concerts and shows will be free and open to all.
Nor is Panaf II purely a massive artistic festival, because literature from around Africa will be represented, ranging from novels to comic books, and some of the guests are writers and academics who have been invited to present their work and take part in symposiums on literature.
There will also be conferences on colonization and the continent s struggle for independence. The first Panaf in July 1969, seven years after Algeria won its freedom from France in a bitter war, was devoted to decolonization, which still had to reach Namibia, Angola, Guinea-Bissau and other countries, while South Africa was then under the yoke of apartheid.
Panaf II is about the renaissance of African culture, Culture Minister Toumi said, adding that part of the festival s aim was to impress minds and the imagination to show and tell the world that Africa is back.
Panaf isn t just about music, organizer Benhamadi stressed. We re going to have a festival, but we re also going to reflect on the future of our continent and to assess the current state of culture in Africa.
About 22,000 police will be on the alert throughout the festival to counter any risk of terrorist attacks, according to a note published on the Panaf II website: http://www.panafalger2009.com/.
In the 1990s, Algeria was wracked by low-level civil war between the secular state and Islamic extremists, but under President Abdelaziz Bouteflika s rule, thousands of the armed fundamentalists took advantage of an amnesty offer. Sporadic clashes still take place between the security forces and extremists, but civilians are usually no longer targets.