Africa Utopia 2018: your highlights

Tuesday, July 24, 2018 - 16:45

On 20-22 July Southbank Centre celebrated the arts and culture of one of the world’s most dynamic and fast-changing continents as we hosted Africa Utopia. Championed by Senegalese singer and human rights advocate Baaba Maal, this year’s festival featured a great range of talks and discussions, workshops, fashion, food and live performances. Throw in some pretty incredible weather and it’s not hard to see why so many flocked to the South Bank to join us. Here are some of your highlights from three fantastic days.

Poet and performer Inua Ellams was one of the most recognisable faces to appear at this year’s Africa Utopia. Although, our festival posters didn’t exactly help him to move about the festival unnoticed.

Ellams’ kicked off the festival for us on Friday night with his RAP Party, a hip-hop and poetry-infused house party where poets read work inspired by hip-hop culture, alongside DJs playing some of their favourite hip-hop and Afrobeat tunes.


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Throughout the weekend our outdoor Riverside Terrace stage was the place to go to get your own groove on to a succession of DJs and live music performances. And folk certainly weren’t messing about out there on Saturday….

The catwalk is always a popular feature of Africa Utopia, and this year was no different, with some incredible outfits on display in The Clore Ballroom.


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And the cream of African fashion certainly wasn’t confined to the catwalks. It was great to see so many of you rocking powerful prints and commanding colours across Southbank Centre throughout the weekend.


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Continuing the fashion thread, we were delighted to welcome a host of London-based traders to our special Africa Utopia marketplace, including Afro hair care specialists Afrocks who were a hit across the weekend.


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Elsewhere on our marketplace there was the opportunity to pick up beautiful traditional items, or some truly unique personal designs, such as the popular statement jewellery of Le Ekhaya.


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Black in the Day’s aim is to collate an online archive of black British life from the 1950s to the 2000s, and across the weekend they joined us to add a new layer to their archive - documenting the present, through portraits of visitors to the festival.

On Saturday night we were privileged to welcome the incredible Malian duo Amadou & Mariam to Royal Festival Hall for a special night of music from their latest album, La Confusion. Two of Africa’s most popular artists, their set, inevitably, went down a storm.

Central to Africa Utopia is the festival’s talks programme, with discussions, debates and workshops on the theme of Pan-Africanism, and how arts and ideas from across the continent are changing the world.

Across the weekend the packed talks programme covered everything from Afrofuturism and Nelson Mandela’s complicated relationship with the Pan-African movement, to activists and writers to discuss their visions of revolutionary futures on the African continent (above), and whether the Pan-African dream is finally becoming a reality (below).

On Sunday, the outdoor Riverside Stage was still cranking up the noise, with acts such as Shay Sade bringing the feelgood vibes to our sundrenched terrace.


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Things weren’t exactly quieter indoors either as The Clore Ballroom played host to HomeBros’ Afro Dance Championships and some incredible solo and group battles that frankly tore the place up.


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You can’t have a celebration of Africa without championing the continent’s incredible food, and across the weekend Southbank Centre Food Market hosted some of the tastiest African street food in the capital, including the incredible Ghanaian fayre of Chale Let’s Eat.


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Closing out this year’s festival were Chineke! Orchestra, Europe’s first professional BAME orchestra, who brought an exhilarating, jazz-infused programme to Queen Elizabeth Hall featuring works by Copland, Gershwin, Ibert, Julian Joseph, and Kurt Weill, featuring American pianist Stewart Goodyear.

All in all it made for a packed weekend and a truly incredible celebration of all things Africa. Huge thanks to all of you who joined us across the weekend.

Whilst it will be another year before Africa Utopia comes round again, we continue to celebrate an African icon long into next month. Nelson Mandela: The Centenary Exhibition, celebrating the activist’s life, career, and commitment to equality and justice, continues at Queen Elizabeth Hall until 19 August.

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