Brighton Festival 4-26 May 19

Brighton Festival is an annual celebration of music, theatre, dance, circus, art, film, literature, debate, outdoor and family events – taking place in venues both familiar and unusual across Brighton & Hove for three weeks every May

In 2016 Brighton Festival celebrated 50 years of commissioning and producing innovative arts and culture with Guest Director Laurie Anderson at the helm. In 2017, they welcomed Guest Director Kate Tempest followed by visual artist and Brighton based David Shrigley in 2018. This year, it’s now the turn of Malian singer, songwriter and guitarist, Rokia Traore as the 2019 Guest Director.

Established in 1967, Brighton Festival has become one of the city’s most enduring symbols of inventiveness and celebration over the past half century. Renowned for its pioneering spirit and experimental reputation, Brighton Festival’s inaugural programme controversially included the first ever exhibition of Concrete Poetry in the UK, alongside performances by none other than, Laurence Olivier, Anthony Hopkins, Yehudi Menuhin, The Who and Pink Floyd!

Now one of Europe’s leading arts festivals, Brighton Festival is known for its ambitious and daring programme that aims to make the most of the city’s distinctive cultural atmosphere, drawing some of the most innovative artists and companies (and adventurous audiences) from the UK and around the world. 

Since 2009 Brighton Festival has attracted a wealth of inspiring and internationally significant Guest Directors who bring cohesion to the artistic programme including British sculptor Anish Kapoor (2009), musician Brian Eno (2010), Burmese politician Aung San Suu Kyi (2011), actress and human rights campaigner Vanessa Redgrave (2012) and award-winning author Ali Smith (2015). Brighton Festival is produced and delivered by the same team that runs the city’s leading arts venue, the Grade I listed Brighton Dome.

The history of this event stretches back to 1964 when the first moves were made to hold a Festival in Brighton, and Ian Hunter, the eventual Artistic Director of the Festival, submitted a programme of ideas. This was followed by a weekend conference in 1965, and the Board of the Brighton Festival Society was born. It was then subsequently launched with the first festival in 1967. In the introduction to the 1968 Festival programme, Ian Hunter explained the original intentions of the Festival: “The aim of the Brighton Festival is to stimulate townsfolk and visitors into taking a new look at the arts and to give them the opportunity to assess developments in the field of culture where the serious and the apparently flippant ride side by side.”

There really has been some incredible performers over the years at the Festival including; Count Basie & Ella Fitzgerald in 1971; Eddie Izzard, Alan Bennett & Harry Connick Junior in 1991 and Elvis Costello, Steven Berkoff & Etta James in 1993.

Brighton Festival, now the largest arts festival in England, is one of the major milestones in the international cultural calendar. It has a long tradition for attracting the most exciting performers from across the globe, as well as promoting local artists, and bringing fresh, challenging new work to Brighton.

This year’s Guest Director is Malian singer, songwriter & guitarist Rokia Traore who is regarded as one of Africa’s most inventive musicians, with her work rooted in the Malian musical tradition. Her discography consists of six albums, released between 1998 and 2016. Born in Mali to a diplomat father, Rokia had a nomadic upbringing that exposed her to a wide variety of international musical influences from Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday and Louis Armstrong, to Wagner, Serge Gainsbourg, and the Rolling Stones. A protégé of the legendary guitarist Ali Farka Touré, Rokia’s breakthrough came in 1997 when she was hailed as the ‘African Revelation’ by Radio France Internationale. Frequently collaborating with world-renowned artists such as Damon Albarn, Devendra Banhart and the Kronos Quartet, Rokia’s diverse output has also included a number of theatre performances, most notably the acclaimed Desdemona by Toni Morrison, a reimagining of Shakespeare’s Othello directed by Peter Sellars. A dedicated humanitarian, in 2009 she set up the Foundation Passerelle in support of emerging artists amidst the social crises in Mali.

The Children’s Parade is a wonderful fiesta of colour, costume & live music which kicks off the Brighton Festival every year. The street Parade has been delivered in partnership with Same Sky, and enjoyed by participants and spectators since launching in 1985. Working with parents, teachers and 5000 young people from across Brighton along with artists, musicians and choreographers, the annual event is always a whirlwind of colour, music, dance and fun!

With a different theme each year, children from over 60 schools and community organisations (as well as teachers and parents), create costumes and props in the lead up to the parade. Often an event itself, schools offer master-classes in the art of papier-mâché, gluing, painting and using cardboard and split cane to create the magnificent props, to be paraded through the streets of Brighton alongside live music, dance and a lively atmosphere no matter what the weather.