Sunday, 8 July 2012


Tuesday 3 – Tuesday 24 July 2012, Southbank Centre 
Africa Utopia is a month-long festival of music, theatre, film, literature, dance, fashion, talks and debates programmed by Southbank Centre in conjunction with renowned Senegalese singer and human-rights campaigner Baaba Maal, as part of Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World with MasterCard. An invited group of young delegates  guided by ‘elders’ including Baaba MaalBen OkriLemn Sissay and Wole Soyinka  engage with African arts organizations and cultural leaders to explore how art projects can be mobilized to bring about social change.    

Festival highlights 
  • Word Sound Power – world-class writers and poetsled by Lemn Sissayread to live music performed by Baaba Maal and his band 
  • Headline concerts by Angelique KidjoOumou Sangaré & Bela Fleck and Taj Mahal 
  • Robben Island Bible – drama based on the true story of how The Complete Works of Shakespeare infiltrated South Africa’s Robben Island prison 
  • The very best African literature from Somalia, Nigeria, Angola, Ethiopia and beyond 
  • Sci-Fi Africa – future visions of Africa in literature, visual art and film 
  • Inua Ellams’ theatrical adventure through an urban landscape with poetry and live music  
  • Gregory Maqoma – award-winning South African choreographer channels his Xhosa heritage in an explosive night of music and dance 
  • Rwanda Catalyst – a celebration of the transformative power of hip-hop on Rwandan street children through film and dance  
  • A delegates programme for talented young artists/activists with a passion for Africa 
  • All-star festival finale with Baaba Maal and friends 

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. 

Throughout the festival there will be performances by iconic musicians who share Baaba Maal’s belief in the power of music for social change.  Whether as ambassadors for UNESCO, UNICEF, the United Nations or instigators of their own social projects, they have all have used their position to effect change in AfricaFamous for exploring the links between American blues and the music of West AfricaTaj Mahal (performing on 4 July) has brought the musical cultures of Africa and North America together over half a century of travel, landmark recordings and collaborations with everyone from Tinariwen and Toumani Diabaté to Angelique Kidjo. On 18 and 19 July continents are bridged once again as American musician Bela Fleck, considered the world’s premiere banjo playerreprises his inspired collaboration with the great Malian singer Oumou Sangare in a concert that draws the banjo back to its ancestral West African roots.    

On 26 July the Royal Festival Hall plays host to Benin-born Angelique Kidjo, who is regarded as one of Africa’s most potent musical forces. UNICEF ambassador and founder of The Batonga Foundationwhich gives girls secondary school and higher education opportunitiesKidjo was recently voted by The Guardian newspaper as one of the world’s top 100 most inspiring women. Africa Utopia also features performances from The Vocal Ensemble of Africa (23 July), made up of singers from six different African countries, violinist Max Baillie who performs with Gambian kora player Sura Susso (27 July), and a special free gig by Gregg Kofi Brown (20 July).  In what will be a fitting finale to the festival on 28 July, Baaba Maal himself returns to the Royal Festival Hall – the venue of legendary concerts in 1999 and in 2009 as part of Ornette Coleman’s Meltdown  in the company of a star-studded array of guests and friends.  

Dance and Performance 
On 17 July the award-winning South African choreographer Gregory Maqoma channels his Xhosa ancestry in Exit/Exista piece inspired by the 19th century leader Chief Maqoma who struggled to maintain Xhosa traditions in the face of colonial dispossession. The piece combines traditional movements with contemporary insights and is powerfully enhanced by live music, including four exceptional South African singers who have toured with Hugh Masekela.  In 2011 world-renowned B Boy dancer Pervez visited a pioneering centre for former street children in Kigali, Rwanda. Yes Man! is an inspiring film of the work that Pervez did with these children, all of whom were passionate about hip-hop. The film will be screened as part of Rwanda Catalyst on 19 July, and the evening will feature performances from three boys who have travelled from Rwanda, and a conversation with the centre’s leader Rafiki Callixte 

On 22 July, Inua Ellams’ Knight Watch will take audiences down to the stark, urban environs of Southbank Centre’s Production Arch for a thrilling mix of live poetry, percussion and music that conjures the violence of a city not unlike London and imagines a more beautiful world. We follow ‘Michael’ as he passes through a landscape where tower blocks are mountains and the walls become urban tapestries telling of epic fights between warring tribes that he tries in vain to avoid.  

Literature and Spoken Word 
African literature has been a particular success story over the past twenty years and has been crucial in countering preconceptions and polarized impressions of the continent, providing insight into the reality of contemporary African culture. On 3 July, poet and Southbank Centre Artist in Residence Lemn Sissay teams up with Baaba Maal to present a unique evening called Word Sound Power, which sees world-class writers read their work over the music of Baaba and his band. Also on 3 July is Robben Island Biblea play based on the true story of how a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare was smuggled into the prison made famous by Nelson Mandela’s incarcerationThe book became an inspiration to the inmates, including Mandela himself, who endlessly passed around, copied and recited the treasured text. Elsewhere in the festival Nuruddin Farah (4 July) gives a fascinating account of contemporary Somalia and Mogadishu and discusses his new novel Crossbones, and in Sci-Fi Africa (4 July) the relationship between science fiction and narratives situated in the African continent is explored. Also on 4 July there is the chance to learn more about the complexities of modern day Nigeria and its giant literary heritage in a discussion between Transwonderland author Noo Saro-Wiwa, and Chika Unigwe, whose latest book Night Dancer is published this summer.   

Africa Utopia has been made possible with additional support from Arts Council England and is part of the London 2012 Festival, the spectacular 12-week nationwide celebration running from21 June until 19 September 2012, bringing together leading artists from across the world with the very best from the UK. 

For Africa Utopia press information please contact: 
Miles Evans 0207 921 0676, 07792 026949 /  
or, Lara Delaney on 0207 921 0917 / 
Southbank Centre Ticket Office – / 0844 847 9910 


Notes to Editors  
Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World  
1 June to 9 September 2012 
Southbank Centre’s summer 2012 site-wide Festival of the World with MasterCard opens on 1 June 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee Weekend, and closes on 9 September 2012. As London welcomes the world this summer, Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World will include inspirational projects from the UK and around the world, which showcase the power of the arts to change the lives of individuals, communities and whole societies. The site will be transformed with art installations including a giant ‘robot’ sculpture; a colossal baobab tree made from fabric; ‘Rainbow Park’, a multi-coloured beach; and an exhibition in the Royal Festival Hall of the thinkers, artists and communities who have inspired and contributed to the Festival. The reopening of the Queen Elizabeth Hall Roof Garden, weekly food markets, and a pop-up cafe complete the Festival landscape. 

Southbank Centre 
Southbank Centre is the UK’s largest arts centre, occupying a 21-acre site that sits in the midst of London’s most vibrant cultural quarter on the South Bank of the Thames. The site has an extraordinary creative and architectural history stretching back to the 1951 Festival of Britain. Southbank Centre is home to the Royal Festival Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall, Purcell Room and the Hayward Gallery as well as The Saison Poetry Library and the Arts Council Collection. 

About MasterCard 
MasterCard (NYSE: MA),, is a global payments and technology company. It operates the world’s fastest payments processing network, connecting consumers, financial institutions, merchants, governments and businesses in more than 210 countries and territories. MasterCard’s products and solutions make everyday commerce activities – such as shopping, travelling, running a business and managing finances – easier, more secure and more efficient for everyone. Follow us on Twitter @MasterCardNewsjoin the conversation on The Heart of Commerce Blog and subscribe for the latest news. 

Arts Council England 
Arts Council England champions, develops and invests in artistic and cultural experiences that enrich people’s lives. We support a range of activities across the arts, museums and libraries – from theatre to digital art, reading to dance, music to literature, and crafts to collections. Great art and culture inspires us, brings us together and teaches us about ourselves and the world around us. In short, it makes life better. Between 2011 and 2015, we will invest £1.4 billion of public money from government and an estimated £1 billion from the National Lottery to help create these experiences for as many people as possible across the country. 

About the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival 
The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad is the largest cultural celebration in the history of the modern Olympic and Paralympic Movements.  Spread over four years, it is designed to give everyone in the UK a chance to be part of London 2012 and inspire creativity across all forms of culture, especially among young people. The culmination of the Cultural Olympiad will be the London 2012 Festival, bringing leading artists from all over the world together from 21 June 2012 in this UK-wide festival – a chance for everyone to celebrate London 2012 through dance, music, theatre, the visual arts, fashion, film and digital innovation. Principal funders of the Cultural Olympiad and London 2012 Festival are Arts Council EnglandLegacy Trust UK and the Olympic Lottery Distributor.  BP and BT are Premier Partners of the Cultural Olympiad and the London 2012 Festival. For more details visit

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