Art Review

The Royal Opera House of London celebrates Africa



London’s prestigious Opera House to feature African contemporary art festival

Zela Gayle


 The Royal Opera House of London under its director Antonio Pappano is one of the world’s leading Opera Houses. But for all its prestigious past, it was unusual for the Royal Opera House to host a contemporary arts festival which brings Africa to the focus in an attempt to celebrate the continent’s contribution to the global art and culture, until now.  

Based in the iconic Covent Garden theatre of London, The Royal Opera House of London is renowned for its outstanding performances of both traditional opera as well as commissioning new works by leading opera composers such as Harrison Birtwistle, Mark-Anthony Turnage and Thomas Ades. Some of the most famous singers of all time have also performed with the Company including the late Luciano Pavarotti and Joan Sutherland.

In the past five years The Royal Opera House has teamed up with Deloitte, a global corporate company that specializes, among others, in tax, auditing, consulting and corporate finance, and created an annual three day contemporary arts festival called Deloitte Ignite. The relationship between the two allowed the Royal Opera House to stage a broad range of ground-breaking works each year with a new vision from the chosen curator.

This year’s event, called Africa Weekend, will celebrate Africa for three days from 31st August – 2nd September and will be curated by the internationally renowned Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare, MBE.

Yinka Shonibare, MBE

50 year old Yinka Shonibare, MBE (The Most excellent Order of the British Empire) is a painter, photographer, filmmaker, and installation artist whose work is influenced by the culture of Nigeria, where he grew up,  and England, where he was born, studied and now lives. Shonibare decided to become an artist at the age of 19.  A month into his arts course however he became seriously ill with a rare viral infection, which attacked his spine and left him temporarily paralyzed. He spent much of the next three years in physiotherapy. He is now paralyzed down one side and walks using a stick. But this did not slow down the enormously talented Shonibare who graduated with an MA from Goldsmiths College in 1991, and since that time he has forged links with arts organizations that have enabled him to support his creative practice and to build networks. Most of his works come alive with the vibrant colors of the African prints he uses. In 2004, Shonibare was nominated for the Turner Prize award.

 Africa at Deloitte Ignite 12

The events of Deloitte Ignite 12 will feature artists such as John Akomfrah, founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective, who will be curating the best of African cinema in the Covent Garden piazza. Special guests include Tony Allen, whom, alongside Fela Kuti, created the sound of Afrobeat. Tony will also be joined by British pop maverick Martina Topley Bird.

“The Africa Weekend is a celebration of traditional African and avant-garde arts and culture,” says Shonibare. Apart from curating he will also be participating with several of his own works from video to photography. “It is an expression of innovation and Africa’s global contribution to culture. The weekend will comprise of cinema, visual arts, dance, music, food and a club night.”

The opening of the festival will be followed by a concert in the Linbury Studio Theatre from Tony Allen and Niaja Centric Orchestra along with special guests including Martina Topley Bird. The concert is expected to bring together traditional and contemporary Nigerian artists blended with international artists.

Another highlight of the event includes a unique interactive exhibition of contemporary African musical instruments in the Paul Hamlyn Hall. Entitled Instrumentos and curated by Angolan composer, performer and designer Victor Gama, the exhibition will feature live demonstrations of these fascinating instruments throughout the weekend, accompanied by a free concert on Saturday Sep. 1 and Sunday Sep. 2 starting from 7pm.

Tavaziva Dance Company, a British based national touring dance company that represents a diversity of black British dance, will perform their recent work, Sensual Africa, at the Linbury Studio Theatre. It will be choreographed by Bawren Tavaziva who says the chorography was inspired by his trip to Malawi.

In the Clore Studio upstairs, emerging choreographer and founder of Vocab Dance Company, Alesandra Seutin, will lead open workshops and lecture demonstrations with professional dancers to illustrate how traditional African dance can be fused with Western classical and contemporary movement. Alesandra Seutin will also be staging improvisations around the exhibition.

Families can participate in African Dance, Storytelling and Drumming workshops led by IRIE! Dance Theatre, Britain’s leading dance-theatre company that specializes in African and Caribbean dance fusion.

Deloitte Ignite 12 builds upon the continuing projects that the Royal Opera House has developed to engage and stimulate new audiences and communities across the UK. Now that London’s biggest ever outdoor festival is taking place alongside the 2012 Olympic schedule, featuring the most extraordinary mix of outdoor arts seen in the capital including circus, carnival, theatre, dance, music and opera, Yinka Shonibare’s ‘Africa Weekend’ at the Royal Opera House could not have come at a more appropriate time.

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