Prepare to be transported to another continent as Africa Utopia takes over Southbank Centre. Our Senior Curator of Contemporary Culture, Hannah Azieb Pool, introduces you to this year’s festival, which takes place at Southbank Centre on 15-16 July.
Welcome to this year’s Africa Utopia festival. Now in it’s fifth year, we are delighted to bring the very best contemporary African and diaspora performance, dance, literature, music and thinkers to the UK. This year we have a truly pan-African programme, with artists from over 14 countries, stretching across the four compass points of the continent.
For the first time ever, Africa Utopia has an outdoor stage with two days of free performances, live music, dance, fashion and workshops. And we’ve two fabulous hosts for the stage, to guide you through the packed programme; Jumoké Fashola, broadcaster, vocalist and BBC Radio London presenter, comperes on Saturday. Whilst Sunday is led by current One Dance UK Trailblazer Champion, Ithalia Forel, who’s also bringing her collaborative piece Afro Play. Colour Vs Place which looks at dance, identity and belonging.
For music lovers we have Chineke!, Europe’s first majority black professional orchestra, returning to close the festival on sunday evening, as well as their spin-off ensemble, Chineke! Juniors, who are also performing. Sounds Under the Bridge, is our pop-up stage programmed by singer-songwriter Sherkia Sherard, who’s just had a song picked for Spike Lee’s new series She’s Gotta Have It. And we also welcome DJ Rita Ray to host our own Africa Utopia Block Party, playing everything from Afrobeat and Congolese jazz, to South African electronica.
Fashion has always been a key part of Africa Utopia, and this year we’ve stepped it up another gear, with a spectacular fashion show taking place on an outdoor riverside catwalk, curated by Africa Fashion Week London. And, as ever, there’s a chance to strut your stuff and show us your fashion savvy on the People’s Catwalk.
Of course we couldn’t forget about hair - which is why we’re thrilled to welcome The Salooni Project, a unique and beautiful pop-up hair salon and art installation which explores the politics of afro hair. The Salooni Project has previously appeared at the Chale Wote Festival in Accra, Ghana, the La Ba Festival, Kampala and Nyege Nyege Festival in Jinja Uganda, and is created by four Ugandan artists; Kampire Bahana, Aida Mbowa; Darlyne Komukama, and Gloria Wavamunno. Africa Utopia is their only UK outing, so don’t miss out on your only chance to see it.
If it’s comedy you’re after Malawian comedian Daliso Chaponda - yes, that Daliso, who recently came third on Britain’s Got Talent - returns to host Presidents of Laughrica. The hilarious diaspora comedy showcase this year includes Somali comedian Prince Abdi (Comedy Central's The World Stands Up, BBC Three's Laughter Shock) and Ava Vidal (Mock the Week, Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow).
Elsewhere, Leeds-based performer Selina Thompson delivers her show salt. - a beautiful and searing retelling of her voyage on a cargo ship, retracing a trans-Atlantic slave trade route, from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica and back. Catch salt. at Africa Utopia before it heads to the Edinburgh Festival.
We also have Gertrude and Jemima, aka poetry and music duo Toni Stuart (South Africa) and Remi Graves (UK), performing What the Trees Know, their interactive exploration of human vulnerability, in which the artists and the audience are blindfolded.
Back inside our talks programme gives you a chance to delve a little deeper into the continent, as, in a world which seems increasingly fractured, we ask is now Africa’s time? The packed programme features some impressive speakers, including filmmaker Amma Asante (Belle, A United Kingdom), writer and broadcaster Ekow Eshun, and founder of the Ake Arts festival, Lola Shoneyin.
The breadth of talks, coupled with panels on everything from African feminisms to the continent’s tech revolution, and workshops ranging from how to build your African social media brand, to how to write an award winning African short story, there’s some for everyone. Whether you’re a dedicated Africa-phile who knows and loves the continent deeply, or you’re complete beginner and want to know more we’ve got you covered.
So there you have it, and these are just a few highlights from Africa Utopia’s huge programme of events, we hope you enjoy the weekend!
Hannah Azieb Pool, Senior Curator, Contemporary Culture