Tony Allen and Damon Albarn’s Triumphant Close to the Africa Utopia Season at the Southbank


The Southbank Centre has long championed African music, the heartbeat of my continent, having played host to wonderful performers from Algeria to Zimbabwe, and this year’s Africa Utopia was no different.

The entire weekend was abuzz with the colours, scents and sounds of Africa as performers, traders, dancers, chefs and musicians brought Africa to the Southbank.

If you are going to have a memorable finale though, it is only fitting that you invite musicians who breathe the music, who love the continent, who are passionate about the rhythm.

Tony Allen, the powerhouse behind the drums of the late, great Fela Anikulapo-Kuti is just such a man, and with special guests Baaba Maal, Damon Albarn, Toumani Diabaté, Sidiki Diabaté and Oxmo, the audience felt music as they never have before, I’m sure. Certainly, we all rose to our feet at the end, and for a few minutes, everyone in that hall forgot all except the throb of the drums and the sweet sound of music and joy.

Baaba Maal, that celebrated Senegalese king of sound was on hand to lend his voice to the amazing evening, and as we know, he can do no wrong.

Damon Albarn completely blew me away: his strong vocals overlaid with African percussions was surprisingly good and I simply couldn’t get enough. There is no doubt that he is a big fan, and his deference Tony Allen was quite touching to see given that he is himself a consummate artiste in his own genre.

My highlight of the night, however, was Sidiki Diabaté. The young Malian who is already accomplished in his skills on the kora, performed with his father, the Grammy Award winning Toumani Diabaté.

They come from a long line of kora players with Sidiki being the 71st generation of the unique West African stringed instrument; this family are believed to be one of the chief custodians of African music, and it is easy to see why. Their performance was haunting, beautiful, and…just excellent. I have searched for everything they have ever done on YouTube, and my day has been filled with their sound. Sublime.

I left the venue feeling exhilarated and proud. Proud of my continent, proud of the artistes for whom music is oxygen, and proud of the Southbank Centre for showing this side of Africa to the world.


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