Revered musician and Oxfam Global Ambassador Baaba Maal realised a ‘decade-long dream’ when Southbank Centre’s Africa Utopia launched this week. Programmed in conjunction with the renowned Senegalese singer and human-rights campaigner, Africa Utopia is a month-long festival of music, theatre, film, literature, dance, fashion, talks and debates and part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World with MasterCard.
Africa Utopia kicked off on Sunday July 1 with readings by the 2012 Caine Prize nominees – providing a brilliant snapshot of contemporary African fiction. Other events over the first few days saw poets Lemn Sissay, TJ Dema and Pauline Black take to the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall for a revelatory evening of poetry read aloud to the sublime rhythms of Baaba Maal and his band and a barnstorming show by the legendary blues musician Taj Mahal. With so much more to come – including a full concert by Maal and guests later in the festival – Africa Utopia taps into what many are beginning to call the ‘African renaissance’.
Beyond headline concerts by internationally renowned artists Angelique Kidjo, Baaba Maal,Oumou Sangaré, Muntu Valdo and the just confirmed …. dance from rising star South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma and thrilling spoken word from Inua Ellams, Africa Utopia offers an exciting range of talks and debates. Expertly put together by The Guardian’s Eritrean born Hannah Pool, the titles speak for themselves and range from China Loves Africa, on China’s growing interest in and influence on the continent to Quick, Hide – Madonna’s Coming on the controversial issue of adoption in Africa and Nollywood or Bust, a discussion about Nigeria’s booming film industry. The talks, which look to shed an illuminating light on the reality of contemporary Africa, are free and take place in the Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room throughout the day on Friday 20, Saturday 21 and Sunday 22 July.
Not only is Africa Utopia a celebration of the continent, but it constructively looks at the issues it faces. Later in the festival, Senior Advisor to UNAIDS Executive Director, Dr Djibril Diallo will be in conversation with Baaba Maal. Together they will be looking at the role of sport in AIDS advocacy and empowering young people in the response to AIDS.
Other luminairies helping us to think about Africa differently throughout the festival, include world-class writers Noo-Saro-Wiwa and Nii Ayikwei Parkes, Guardian journalist Gary Younge and author and journalist (Guardian, Grazia, Arise Magazine) Hannah Pool, CNN’sStephanie Busari, blogger extraordinaire Ms Afropolitan, RIBA Fellow Elsie Owusu, rising stars in the world of fashion Bestow Elan and Chichia London plus many more.
Africa Utopia will provide many opportunities to party, including The Ultimate Afrobeats Utopia; a club night in the Royal Festival Hall’s Clore Ballroom on Saturday 21 July, featuring the very best in Afrobeats with headline act; Ice Prince (named 2012 African Artist of the Year) alongside BBC Radio 1/1 Xtra’s DJ Edu, award-winning DJ Neptizzle and Afro House specialist Sef Kombo.
Jude Kelly, Artistic Director at Southbank Centre, said:“Africa’s cultural contribution to the world is incalculable. Throughout July we hear the music of inspirational musicians, see the work of rising star choreographers and gain fresh perspectives on contemporary Africa through the writings of some of the continent’s most talented writers and poets.And, guided and mentored by an illustrious gathering of ‘elders’, an invited group of young delegates explore the transformative potential of culture as an agent of social change through talks and debates.”
Baaba Maal, singer and human rights campaigner, said:“Africa is all too often written off as an intractable ‘problem’ for the world to solve, I hope this festival will reveal just some of what Africa has to offer the rest of the world: The energy of our youth and their desire to engage with the world; The transformative potential of culture and, perhaps most potently, the power of community to bind people together.”by