Africa Utopia festival returns to the Southbank Centre celebrating Pan-Africanism

Zoe Paskett
Hello, Rain UK Premiere

As questions of borders are discussed with ever-increasing volume, Africa Utopia festival focuses on the potential for unity.

Returning on July 19, the annual festival, now in its sixth year, celebrates Africa and its diaspora with four days of performance, music, comedy, film and literature at the Southbank Centre.

Headlining this year’s festival are Malian musical duo Amadou & Mariam and the Chineke! Orchestra, while discussions centre around the Pan-African ideology, asking whether a United States of Africa could be possible in the future.

Debo Amon, who programmed this year’s festival, called this year’s line-up the “most audacious programme to date”.

“With the fracturing of international alliances, the rise of nationalism and the entrenchment of borders, global narratives are shifting and we wonder: does a new Pan-African movement have anything to offer as an alternative model?

“Through music and performance, literature and debate, we bring together an array of amazing artists, writers and activists from the continent and its diaspora to explore this idea and others, celebrate Africa’s rich cultural contribution to the world, and consider how we can work together to help shape a better future.”

Here’s what to see at this year’s festival.

Inua Ellams’ R.A.P Party

(Oliver Holms)

Playwright and poet Inua Ellams hosts an evening of spoken word, poetry and music with ten Pan-African poets including Theresa Lola, Victoria Adukwei Bulley, Salma El-Wardany and Sumia Jaama. They will be sharing their work inspired by hip-hop culture and experiences of contemporary life, while DJ Sid Mercutio plays hip-hop and Afrobeat tunes.

July 19, Purcell Room

Hello, Rain

(Hello, Rain UK Premiere still)

Hello, Rain is CJ Obasi’s Afro-futuristic screen adaptation of Nnedi Okorafor’s short story Hello, Moto. This UK premiere screening follows a scientist-witch who creates wigs using juju and technology that grant her superpowers. But soon, the powers grow out of her control and she must do everything she can to stop them. The film is followed by a Q&A with director CJ Obasi.

July 20, Purcell Room

WOKE by Apphia Campbell

(Mihaela Bodlovic)

Campbell’s one-woman show follows two women 42 years apart, and their struggle for civil rights: notorious Black Panther Assata Shakur and a present-day student enrolling in university as the Ferguson riots kick off. With original gospel and blues music sung live, the two women challenge the bias of the American justice system. Campbell’s previous show Black is the Color of My Voice played to sold-out audiences around the world.

July 20-21, Royal Festival Hall

Amadou & Mariam

(Southbank Centre)

The multi-award-winning Malian duo, Amadou Bagayoko and Mariam Doumbia, return to the Royal Festival Hall on July 21, performing music from their eighth international album, La Confusion, released last year. The couple have appeared on the main stage at Glastonbury, supported Blur in Hyde Park and performed at a Nobel Peace Prize concert in honour of Barack Obama

July 21, Royal Festival Hall

Chineke! Orchestra

(Eric Richmond and Joe Swift)

Following the popularity of their previous Africa Utopia appearances, Europe's only professional black and minority ethnic orchestra Chineke! makes a return to Queen Elizabeth Hall. Conducted by Wayne Marshall with Steward Goodyear on piano, they will play a repertoire of jazz-infused pieces from George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue to a world premiere of Carry that sound by Julian Joseph.

July 21, Queen Elizabeth Hall

Opening Keynote: Wanuri Kahiu

(Bret Hartman/TED)

Filmmaker, writer and co-founder of AFROBUBBLEGUM, Wanuri Kahiu has written and directed six films. Her second feature, Rafiki, became the first even Kenyan film to feature at the Cannes Film Festival this year. It tells the love story of two young women in Nairobi, negotiating challenges from their families and society. She talks on Saturday about how arts and activism are leading the way towards social change across Africa.

July 21, Purcell Room

Presidents of Laughrica

(Steve Ullathorne)

This comedy showcase brings three comedians from the African diaspora in London: Junior Simpson, who has appeared on Never Mind the Buzzcocks and his own two series In the Dark and Hit Man, Britain’s Got Talent finalist Daliso Chaponda, with up-and-comer Annette Fagon compering.

July 21, Purcell Room

Reverse Colonialism!

(Southbank Centre)

Ahilan Ratnamohan and Star Boy Collective collaborate to present an interactive performance, decided by audience voting cards. Reverse Colonialism! sees four Africans living in Belgium try to build a new utopia for African-Europeans and European-Africans in an attempt to solve the migration-integration dilemma.

July 22, Purcell Room

Talks and debates

A series of talks and debates will explore the theme of Pan-Africanism. United States of Africa on July 21 considers what a truly united African continent might look like. On July 22 in the Royal Festival Hall, Pan-Africanism and Me has speakers reflecting on how their lives have been shaped by Pan-Africanism. A guided walk around the Nelson Mandela: the UK Centenary exhibition in Mandela & Pan-Africanism on July 22 talks an in depth look at his relationship with the Pan-African Freedom Movement.

Literature

The Africa Utopia Book Club on July 22 dives into African classics in this Afrikult hosted event. Live readings from She Called Me Woman, a collection of short stories about life as a queer Nigerian woman take place on July 21. Derek Owusu, host of literature podcast Mostly Lit, chairs a discussion with today’s Pan-African literary stars Michael Donkor (with his debut novel Hold) and Diana Evans (author of Ordinary People, The Wonder and 26a) on July 21.

Workshops

Get involved in a mini-making workshop with AFRORETRO, or science fiction writing masterclass with CJ Obasi. Yolanda Mercy leads a class on how to create a solo performance connecting with your ancestry, teaching techniques to help develop ideas and ending with a recording of the composed monologue. Learn African dance or show off African-inspired street style on the People’s Catwalk.

Africa Utopia runs from July 19-22 at the Southbank Centre.

For a full programme of events go to southbankcentre.co.uk