Still saving the Africa Centre

Still saving the Africa Centre
  • PublishedSeptember 18, 2013

In May 2011 Kaye Whiteman wrote an article in these pages called “Saving the Africa Centre”. The title was taken from a campaign being waged at the time supported by those who feared that the historic venue in London’s King Street, Covent Garden was going to close, with the loss of an important part of the African experience in the British capital.

As a Trustee of the Centre, he argued that although its heritage was vital, the Trustees felt that the King Street building was no longer fit for purpose, and that the Centre needed a new vision for the 21st century. Here, as it is about to embark on the adventure of leaving its home behind, he looks at the Centre’s future.

The Piazza in Covent Garden is one of London’s atmospheric open-air venues, with the ghosts of the old fruit and vegetable market ever present, and the shadow of the Royal Opera House looming large. The Africa Centre used to make much of the fact that it was once a banana warehouse. It was thus appropriate that, as it bows out of this particular locality, the present owners of much of the area’s real estate (CapCo) should have made it possible for the Centre, for the first time in its history of nearly 50 years, to have its own Africa Day in the Piazza.

This took the form of an Africa Centre Summer Festival on 3 August, which is planned to be an annual feature, even when the King Street building has closed its doors. It was an innovative way of demonstrating that the Centre did not need to be confined within the walls of a particular structure, and was thus a deeply symbolic day.

The event had a number of side attractions in the Centre itself (an exhibition of art works alongside the opening of Zoë’s Ghana kitchen in the Centre’s shop-front) as well as African stalls in the east piazza.

There were also film screenings and photography (the latter on a screen in Covent Garden station), but the central attraction was a stage outside the portico of St Paul’s church, where there was continuous performance from early afternoon to well into the evening. Beginning with Tunde Jegede’s Griot’s Tale (“stories of memory, loss, sacrifice and redemption” by way of mixed performance arts), the show continued through a number of musical turns including the punchy Wale Ojo and the Kalakuta Express and the excellent “masters of Soukous” from Congo – Kasai Masai. The performance was interspersed with catwalk shows from the 2013 collections of London Fashion Week that had had good publicity during the preceding week.

Written By
New African

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