East London Food & Culture

Africa Express: a big-top circus is coming to Wanstead Flats

The next big event to mark the borough's cultural status is in Leytonstone. Woop!

Now we like the sound of this. Next month, as part of Waltham Forest’s Borough of Culture year, a big-top circus tent is to be erected on Wanstead Flats, the southernmost part of Epping Forest – in case you don’t know.

Why? It’s a celebratory cross-cultural collaboration of Leytonstone, where Africa Express co-founder (and Blur head honcho) Damon Albarn grew up.

All this month rehearsals for the event are taking place in Leytonstone, where participating artists include (deep breath): Batida, Damon Albarn, Django Django, Ellie Rowsell (Wolf Alice), Gruff Rhys, Imarhan, Joan As Police Woman, Mista Silva, Moonchild Sanelly, Morena Leraba, Muzi, Onipa, Rokia Traoré, Sibot and The Good, The Bad & The Queen. Wowsers.

For the uninitiated, Africa Express has already toured Africa, Europe and parts of Britain. Hailed as the most revolutionary force in popular music for two decades, it brings together musicians from different cultures, genres and generations to “break boundaries and offer a new perspective on Africa and its music”. Each event is unique, based upon on-the-spot collaboration and filled with unique moments of magic.


“Growing up in a multi-racial community like Leytonstone had a profound effect on me as a boy, being so near to magical places such as Epping Forest,” says Albarn. “The Wanstead Flats helped define who I am, so this is a great honour personally.”

“Our home studio is in Leyton,” adds Tom Excell (Onipa). “It’s an inspiring place to make music as it has the calmness of the marshes, Epping Forest and the River Lea but is still a diverse, multicultural hub with the energy of the city. It’s a real honour to be involved with the Africa Express show. Me and K.O.G (Kweku of Ghana) are extremely grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with so many world class musicians on what is home turf.”

The only caveat: tickets go on sale today for local residents. But if you’re not quick enough – and we hear there’s been quite a rush – hundreds more are released on Monday, so either way you shouldn’t miss out.

Tickets (£16.50) are on sale to Waltham Forest residents today (15th Feb) and on general sale Monday 18 February at 10am. More info and tickets here

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