This September sees The Southbank Centre host Africa Utopia for the third year running. This diverse festival brings together an amalgamation of varied expression as a way of looking at how Africa can lead the way in thinking about culture, community, business and technology. It includes topics ranging from fashion and gender to power and politics as well as sustainability and activism.
Through music, dance, literature and the arts the festival showcases appearances from renowned artists such as legendary drummer Tony Allen, one of the acknowledged co-founders of Afrobeat. The Festival features also interrogate key themes attributed to the narratives of the continent such as migration, and displacement through visual art and theatre
It won’t fail to inspire and inform, with a selection of free events, debates, workshops and live performances exploring the diverse rich and intricate cultures of Africa.
What’s on Africa have made it easy for you to pick which events to attend by selecting our top ten favourite features this September. Have a diary to hand!
Their first London show in three years makes Orchestra Baobab’s return a highly anticipated event.
Formed in 1970 the group played in the Baobab Club at weekends (from which they took their name) but they were soon so popular they were playing every night and the dance floor was always full. By the mid-1970s they were being hailed as the best band in Senegal, if not in Africa, enjoying a status similar to Bembeya Jazz in Sekou Toure’s Guinea.
Singer-songwriter Blick Bassy will be supporting, performing in Bassa, one of 260 languages spoken in Cameroon. His latest album, Akö, is influenced by bluesman Skip James and the itinerant musicians he encountered during his rural childhood.
The Independent call the Baobab Orchestra’s show a “live experience, few can beat” With decades of experience in rocking dance floors to a unique fusion of Latin pachanga, salsa and African rhythms, the style and flair of Orchestra Baobab is not to be missed.
2. Maia Von Lekow
What’s on Africa recently had an insightful interview with Maia Von Lekow which can be read here: (Insert link) Lekow’s music combines afro-jazz, folk, and soul, with strong Swahili elements.
Her music has transported her to stages with artists such as James Blunt, Habib Koité, Thandiswa and Mafikizolo, and she has performed at festivals across Africa, including Zimbabwe’s HIFA, Morocco’s Visa for Music, Sauti za Busara in Zanzibar and Kigali Up in Rwanda.
Maia’s debut album Drift was released in 2013. ‘Uko Wapi’, from her self-titled EP, received two African Academy Awards for best soundtrack. With a sound synonymous to jazz vocalists of the 1930s and soul and folk music of the 1960s, Leko’s Kenyan roots create a unique and distinctive sound allowing Maia to blaze new trails in Kenya and beyond.
3. Voicelab: Zambia Song With Namvula Rennie
The singer Namvula Rennie welcomes you to a creative vocal workshop on Southern African and Zambian songs. Learn how to rework traditional songs by using improvisation techniques to create new harmonies and textures.
Namvula is a singer, songwriter, photographer, workshop facilitator and the co-founder of Film Africa brought to you by the Royal African Society. Join her on a creative journey for Africa Utopia and discover the songs which inspire her own music-making. This open and inclusive workshop for singers of all abilities is taught entirely by ear. An informal pop-up performance also concludes the workshop, to showcase the reworked songs.
Whether you’re a professional singer, or a bathroom singer, this workshop gives you the chance to soak up beautiful African melodies on the day.
4. Afriqui and African head charge
Come and see London-based promoters Wormfood show you how Africa has influenced UK artists in a night of futuristic sounds. This showcase creates a platform to show a new generation of home-grown artists who have been inspired by African music. Whilst displaying UK talent the show pays homage to the African roots found in many genres today, acknowledging it’s prominence.
Headliners Afriquoi combine the virtuosic kora of Jally Kebba Suso and the guitar of Fiston Lusambo with percussion, vocals and live electronics. Their sound marries traditional music from across Africa with an uplifting, contemporary UK style.
They are joined by pioneering dub-reggae ensemble African Head Charge. The group – led by co-founder and percussionist Bonjo Iyabhinghi Noah – fuse primal drumbeats with psychedelic dub, roots reggae and modern electronica.
Between the two shows, KOG and the Zongo Brigade – Glastonbuy Emerging Talent runners-up 2015 – deliver infectious West African vibes from Ghana via Sheffield, blending afrobeat, soul, funk and reggae.
The night ends with DJs who take African music in new directions. Nubiyan Twist play some of the tracks that have influenced them as a band, including afro-funk, afro-Brazilian and afrobeat favourites.
5. Africa utopia Friday day pass
If you love exploring African politics, technology, education and trade then this day of events and talks is for you.
The Africa Utopia Friday Day Pass is an opportunity to participate in panel discussions, keynotes and workshops. You will be able to examine everything from disruptive innovation to the power and politics of data in Africa.
Discussions on the day also include talks on the joys and challenges of doing business in Africa, the future of digital journalism and what really happens when diaspora Africans return home to set up a business.
Speakers include Baaba Maal (co-founder of the first Africa Utopia), Victoria Moores (African Aerospace), Feruz Werede (Network for Eritrean Women), Vanessa Iwowo and Awol Allo (LSE), Afua Hirsch (Sky), and Mariéme Jamme (technologist and founder of Africa Gathering) who also leads a Hackathon for Gender Equality.
Through enlightening and constructive conversation, the event will provide those participating with a greater insight into African Affairs. Not to be missed!
6. Maaza Mengiste
Migration has been a constant of human existence, but how does the fantasy compare with reality?
With images of boats crammed with migrants scarcely out of the media, a panel of writers with African roots explores migrations real and imagined, asking if we inevitably circle back to where we came from.
The event features Maaza Mengiste, the Ethiopian-American author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, which was named one of the 10 best books on Africa by The Guardian; Jamal Mahjoub, the Caine Prize-shortlisted British-Sudanese author of The Drift Latitudes; and Irenosen Okojie, the Nigerian-British author whose debut, Butterfly Fish, spans modern day London and ancient Benin.
7. Chineke Orchestra
Witness the launch of Chineke!
Chineke! – meaning ‘the spirit of creation’ in Igbo leads the way as the first professional classical orchestra in the UK, made up entirely of BME musicians.
The orchestra is the brainchild of leading double bassist Chi-chi Nwanoku, who aims to both celebrate the creative energy of musicians of colour and inspire new generations of instrumentalists.
The concert is conducted by Wayne Marshall, and includes Elegy: In Memoriam – Stephen Lawrence by black British composer Philip Herbert, as well as Beethoven’s dramatic Symphony No.7. This is a fantastic chance to see classical music diversified.
8. Tony Allen Review
The Tony Allen Group performs with Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté and Oxmo with further special guests to be announced.
Hailed as the driving force behind behind the late Fela Kuti’s afrobeat movement, Fela once stated that ‘without Tony Allen, there would be no Afrobeat’. He has also been described by Brian Eno as ‘perhaps the greatest drummer who has ever lived’.
Post-Fela, Allen developed a hybrid sound, combining Afrobeat with electronica, dub, R&B and rap. Allen refers to this synthesis as afrofunk.
His latest album, Film of Life, features collaborations with Damon Albarn and cutting-edge producers The Jazzbastards and is an overview of his rich career, which brings together bebop, afrobeat, jazz and psychedelic pop.
This event will feature a new collaboration between Tony, the Grammy Award-winning kora player Toumani Diabaté, and Toumani’s son Sidiki Diabaté. French star rapper Oxmo contributes.
Tony Allen’s music is organic, unrestrained and rich with experience and history. This can be heard in the way he effortlessly fuses genres and sounds. The performances on the night won’t fail to strike a rhythmic cord.
9. Phoebe Boswell
Artist Phoebe Boswell uses visual media to explore global, fragmented narratives like her own and she does just that with her work entitled “Transit Terminal”.
Born in Kenya to a Kikuyu mother and fourth-generation British-Kenyan father, Pheobe was brought up as an expatriate in the Middle East before coming to London where she now lives and works.
Phoebe says ‘I have always had a delicate understanding of the meaning of “home”.’ As such her history, identity and work is rooted in themes of migration and a personal exploration of home.
Transit Terminal features 12 figures. FNA-CKY-CDG-LHR – the title for the child figure – describes a child’s journey from Freetown, Conakry, Charles de Gaulle to London Heathrow and seeks to shed light on her personal experiences.
10. Aunty Aunty Let Me Do Your Hair
Join Tiata Fahodzi – Britain’s leading African theatre company – for a style consultation in their pop-up salon…only it’s a salon like you’ve never seen it before. Instead of trading hair styling for money, they’re trading tales for your time. Take a seat in their hairdressing chairs, share your salon stories and help to shape their brand new play, aunty aunty, let me do your hair. Tiata Fahodzi (tee∙ah∙tahfa∙hoon∙zi) produce theatre that reflects the changing African diaspora in contemporary Britain.
Africa Utopia at the South Bank Centre takes place from Thursday 10th September – Sunday 13th September