The celebrated Malian musician Rokia Traoré has been announced as Guest Director of this year’s Brighton Festival, unveiling the 2019 programme with storytelling at its heart.
Brighton Festival is the largest annual, curated multi-arts festival in England and this year it promises to be a wide-ranging, diverse and international Festival, encouraging audiences to meet, listen and pass on their experiences.
Featuring over 130 events with artists and performers from more than 20 countries, Brighton Festival 2019 is a space for contemporary expression from around the world. The importance of respect for all cultures and for nurturing the next generation of artists is at the heart and soul of this year’s programme. The Festival will present new and unexpected events across 25 venues and locations across Brighton, Hove and Sussex from 4 to 26 May 2019.
Guest Director Rokia Traoré will bring three exclusive performances to Brighton, opening with her blues rock band to perform the critically acclaimed album Né So, which translates as ‘home’ in the Bambara language. Dream Mandé: Djata is the UK premiere of her theatrical and musical project – a monologue structured around the West African griot tradition of oral history storytelling where Rokia is accompanied by two musicians on kora and n’goni instruments. Dream Mandé: Bamanan Djourou is a group performance with an orchestra and choir led by Rokia, with re-arrangements of traditional Malian melodies and contemporary songs by the likes of Bob Marley and Fela Kuti. Rokia’s invited guests include artists, musicians and dancers visiting the UK for the first time from Foundation Passerelle, a cultural centre established by Rokia in Mali’s capital city Bamako. This collaboration will form a long-term partnership with Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival that is committed to international engagement at the heart of our artistic programme.
Commenting on their appointment of the coveted role of Guest Director of this year’s festival, Rokia Traore said, “As Guest Director, I set out to bring new voices to the city to tell their stories. Understanding other cultures is so important to the world that we live in and it brings me great joy to shed light on some unexpected voices through this opportunity. I hope that through the Festival, visitors listen to stories from far away and from right next door. Stories with characters and ideas you never could have dreamed of, stories that touch you, thrill you, bring you happiness and perhaps move you to experience life in a different way.
I am honoured to share my own stories and I’m filled with joyous anticipation to be Guest Director for this wonderful gathering of music, art, words, dance and performance. My hope is that the Festival gives everyone a new story to hand down for generations to come.”
Rokia Traoré was born in January 1974 in Kati, on the outskirts of Bamako, the capital of Mali and her father, a Bambara from the region of Bélédougou, was a diplomat. She travelled extensively during her youth: Algeria, Saudi Arabia, France and Belgium, where she studied. Her identity is deeply rooted in West Africa Mandinka culture. Yet, when Rokia began to learn music, it was easier for her to play guitar and write texts in French or English and dream about rap or rock than participate in weddings during which the traditional griot songs are interpreted. Indeed, being considered a noble Bambara, Rokia Traoré was not deemed to have the right to learn and sing the songs of the griots.
Now a highly celebrated musician, Rokia Traoré is the founder and president of the Fondation Passerelle in Bamako. Supporting the musical and artistic creation in Mali, the Foundation organises musical training courses and supports multidisciplinary artistic creations along with talks and debates about Malian society, culture, youth and the challenges they face. She has also won the ‘Découverte Afrique’ Award from Radio France Internationale (RFI), a BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards, a Victoire de la Musique (French Music Award), and Best Artist Award at the Songlines Music Awards in London.
As always, the Festival will include free and participatory activities for all ages. The annual Children’s Parade with Same Sky officially marks the start of the Festival on Saturday 4 May and this year’s theme of folk tales from around the world will bring a procession of colourful characters to the city centre. Without Walls bring a visually spectacular group of outdoor events – from Ghost Caribou’s magical illuminated animals to a day of family friendly performances on the beach level at the British Airways i360. Marking 50 years since the first moon landings, Brighton will have its very own moon with artist Luke Jerram’s realistic illuminated lunar model lighting up the sky above Queens Park – commissioned by Brighton Festival with the Without Walls network.
Your Place, initiated in 2017 by Guest Director Kate Tempest, will return to Hangleton and East Brighton but will change its name to Our Place, acknowledging the communities’ commitment to bringing creativity, culture and free events to local residents as part of our growing partnership. Look out for circus theatre, workshops, outdoor art and live music from guest performers!
Supporting the next generation of art-goers is integral to the Festival spirit and Young Brighton Festival (YBF) is for children and young people – from infants to Instagrammers – to discover, create and participate in the arts, giving them unexpected and enriching experiences that can be shared with their friends or family. The YBF programme covers everything from poetry, theatre, dance and music.
Internationally acclaimed companies travel across the globe to present their new productions to Festival audiences. From Australia, Backbone by circus collective Gravity & Other Myths, is a showcase of raw physical agility. Acclaimed Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez recreate their epic multi-artform TrapTown for its UK premiere. From France, Ensemble Correspondances make their Festival debut with music recreated from the court of Louis XIII. BERLIN (from Belgium) expose the hypocrisy of the art world with True Copy, the incredible real-life story of one of the world’s most prolific forgers. Poland’s Teatr Biuro Podrozy stage Silence, a large-scale open-air spectacle based on a tale of survival and from Taiwan, Tjimur Dance Theatre’s Varhung: Heart to Heart, blends ancient cultural traditions with contemporary dance-theatre.
Festival favourites bringing back their own unique blend of creative energy include: Kneehigh’s Dead Dog in a Suitcase, a hilarious take on the Beggar’s Opera; Brighton’s very own Spymonkey celebrate their 20th anniversary with Cooped, in partnership with Worthing Theatres; British Paraorchestra, led by conductor Charles Hazlewood stage The Nature of Why, merging dance and live music into an epic performance commissioned by Unlimited and Chineke! return to celebrate BME talent with music from the 1920s era of Gershwin, Copland and Weill.
Recognised cultural figures will bring new work to Brighton this May. Authors Ben Okri and Jon Ronson discuss their latest publications; Grammy award winner Neneh Cherry performs songs from her new release, Broken Politics; comedian Ruby Wax will teach us how to be human and British actress and writer Zawe Ashton shares her memoirs. Following its sold-out run in London, Brighton Festival is excited to welcome Superhoe, Nicôle Lecky’s Royal Court writing debut and the first collaboration between Talawa Theatre Company and the Royal Court Theatre.
Immersive installations will pop-up in unusual locations across the city and beyond. Wet Sounds invites you to jump into the Prince Regent swimming pool for a unique audio-visual experience. Distorted Constellations, a performance art piece, in partnership with Lighthouse, will take viewers into the landscape of artist Nwando Ebizie’s brain; Flight by Vox Motus is a spellbinding tale of the journey of two orphaned brothers, recreated through a captivating interactive diorama.
Five years after her death, Brighton Festival celebrates the life of seminal African American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou with three powerful tributes: Caged Birds Do, Still I Rise, and New Daughters of Africa. Angelou appeared at Brighton Festival several times and these moving and uplifting performances will honour her legacy.
Elsewhere, artists explore emotional issues connected to masculinity and femininity. From The Pappy Show’s energetic dance piece BOYS, dealing with young male vulnerability, to Eye to Eye, a Brighton Festival Commission and world premiere by theatre-maker Sheila Hill, inspired by motherhood and featuring a chorus of 100 women and children in collaboration with Glyndebourne Youth Opera and guest musicians.
Andrew Comben, Chief Executive of Brighton Festival & Brighton Dome added “It has been such a privilege working with Rokia, her team and the artists she’s bringing from Mali. We look forward to learning from her unique perspective and hope visitors to Brighton and loyal Festival-goers will enjoy three weeks of engaging and inspiring cultural events. This year we’re pleased to extend our programme across Sussex in a new partnership with Worthing Theatres and continue to reach out further across Brighton & Hove. In these uncertain times it’s important to appreciate the value of stories from near or far, and to come together as a community.”
Hedley Swain, Area Director, South East, Arts Council England, said, “Brighton Festival is one of England’s cultural highlights, with a programme full of globally renowned artists and an international reputation for excellence. Through our funding, we’re delighted to be a part of making that happen. It gives so many people from all backgrounds the opportunity to experience and enjoy an amazing variety of great art – that opportunity is very important to the Arts Council. Recent Guest Directors have brought so much to Brighton Festival and I know that Rokia Traoré will continue this wonderful tradition, bringing her own distinct voice for audiences to enjoy.”
Brighton Festival 2019 tickets go on sale to Members at 7.30am, Thursday 14 February and on general sale at 9am, Friday 22 February from brightonfestival.org or 01273 709709.
Many events are free and over 100 performances cost £10 or less.