Sheffield celebrates African art and culture

BAFTA and MOBO winning hip-hop artist Akala appears at the Spirit of Africa Festival this weekend.
BAFTA and MOBO winning hip-hop artist Akala appears at the Spirit of Africa Festival this weekend.
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In Sheffield this weekend a two-day festival of music, theatre, film and visual arts celebrates the African continent and diaspora. Nick Ahad reports.

Another week, another racist outburst on public transport.

It’s getting to be more than a little depressing, but at least the increase in racist and hate crime in the UK since June 23, 2016 has been matched by the increased ubiquity of mobile recording devices. With recorded footage we get to see – as we did with a Ryanair passenger this week – just what people of colour are facing on a daily basis. Although let’s be truthful, the viral videos we see make up an infinitesimal percentage of incidents that actually happen.

What to do about this? Well, there are those of us who get angry and there are those who say education is the only way to beat ignorance. If we are able to teach people like the Ryanair passenger about the many great benefits he has gained from living in a multicultural society, then perhaps he wouldn’t be outraged and ask to move when seated next to a black person.

Utopia Theatre Company is made of the latter group, those who want to teach, to educate in order to eradicate this problem.

The Sheffield-based company was set up to create cross-cultural work to ‘enhance the value of the African community’. In a nutshell, to demonstrate why those who appear with alarmingly increased frequency to tell black people to get out of Britain, why the country would be so much poorer were their racist demands met.

Utopia brings together African and Western performing traditions which leads to new work and classics – the company has previously staged The Duchess of Malfi set in West Africa – being infused with two cultures.

Tonight and tomorrow Utopia takes another step towards creating the utopia it wants us to live in with the Spirit of Africa Festival. Taking place over two days, it is the first time the organisation has worked with Sheffield Theatres to bring this event to the stage and the quality of artists involved is a huge marker of what the organisers expect from the event. Indeed, the Sheffield Crucible is a world-renowned stage and it is a huge feather in the cap for all concerned that tonight and tomorrow it will be populated by artists chosen by Utopia to represent their vision. When it comes to the festival, the theatre asks: “What if we could, just for two days, bring Africa to the heart of Sheffield?”

Tonight, Friday, sees what sounds like a seriously impressive event with the Crucible stage being taken over from 6pm by Breis, Namvula and Akala. Breis is a Nigerian rap artist based in the UK who has toured nationally and internationally, Namvula is a musician who draws on her London and Zambian roots to create an entirely new sound and journalist, writer, BAFTA and MOBO award winning hip-hop artist Akala rounds off the evening. Tomorrow sees the venue play host to drumming, painting and storytelling workshops and performances with a performance by Dele Sosimi who was the musical director and keyboard player for Fela Kuti and Fela’s son Femi.

October 26 and 27. Details and tickets (many events are free) 0114 2496000 or sheffieldtheatres.co.uk