Never underestimate African Ingenuity.
There was no other place to be but the historic streets of James Town last weekend. Accra dot Alt Tours and their collaborators transformed the birthplace of the city of Accra into an oasis of street art from all over the continent and beyond. From flaming quad bikes to gravity defying acrobats, azonto dancing geriatrics, awe inspiring murals, psychedelic disc jockey’s, eccentric fashion artists, unyielding boxers ,traditional funk bands, inspiring poets and spoken word artists, customized coffins. No word or group of words can aptly describe the unique and euphoric feeling at the 2014 Chale Wote Street Art Festival. It carried the souls of all to an artistic mount Olympus, mimicking the iconic rubber slippers it is named after.
What made the festival stand out for me was the African ingenuity and how, within two days, demands of everyone was satisfied. For the screen enthusiast, there was the Film Festival where documentaries and short films from local and international cinematographers were screened. Motion pictures from Giacomo Pecci (Italy), Oualid Khefi (Algeria), and FOKN Bois (Ghana) were on display, for free! For the music fanatic, eargasm inducing bands and DJs were around to put you in the mood to bust some moves. Fashion articles, combining native designs with contemporary stylistic ideas were on display at the fashion stands. Mouthwatering cuisine from over fifteen restaurants in the city was at the Accra Cookout for foodies to savor. You simply could not be bored. The residents I spoke to were particularly thrilled to host guests from all over the world and expose them to the unique Ghanaian culture.
Public reception of the event was superb. Despite the rising cost of living and health scares, people were not discouraged from turning up on the vivacious streets of what used to be British Accra. The closing of the Atta-Mills High Street inconvenienced some motorists, but it seemed like a small price to pay for a fun weekend. The natives were delighted with the event being held in their community. For that period of time, they shoved all their worries aside and had fun. The vendors I spoke to did not want the festival to end. Yaganoma Baatuolkuu of Wanjo Foods was pleased with the business she did. She told me current economic conditions did not deter visitors from enjoying her delicious, natural and healthy beverages and syrups. Nana Acheampong, of the Arts and Craft Society Ghana was disappointed that majority of the visitors who patronized his artifacts were expatriates. He said the Ghanaians are not fans of their goods and encouraged the public to promote Ghanaian industries. German Ghanaian, DJ Pambam (Pamela Owusu), a frequent act at the festival said this was the biggest one thus far. I estimated over ten thousand people present.
The manner in which the festival utilized common materials that others would consider trash and turned them into artwork highlighted African inventiveness. Fishing crates and flour sacks transformed into canvasses for visual artist to dazzle. Polythene bags recycled into clothing. Furniture from worn-out tires, fishnet wall hangings. Newspaper cutouts transformed into skins for sculptures. The art at Chale Wote showed the beauty in originality whilst exploring this year’s theme, Death: An Eternal Dream into Limitless Rebirth.
Chale Wote has left an indelible mark on the history of Ghana; restoring the faded glory of once iconic buildings such as the Usher Fort Prison (1839), The Old Kingsway Building, The Sea View Hotel (First Hotel in Ghana) and Brazil House by decorating their walls with awe-inspiring murals.
Art is Life. Art is supposed to inspire, to spark a certain change in the lives of people. I was pleased with how health officials used the platform created by the show to educate the community, mainly children, on Ebola and cholera, which has reached pandemic status in Accra. My favorite piece of art on exhibition was a native drama trope called ‘Act for Change’. These young people sought to revive the now lost, age-old tradition of storytelling or “Adesa”. They performed stories from Ga folklore that originally provided moral grooming for the youth in the community. I was impressed to find youth still interested in promoting morality.
Accra dot Alt Tours pulled off a show worthy of its hype and social media chatter, but I still feel they could have done much better in some areas. For instance, they could have provided more bins along the Atta-Mills High Street. There were a few at Mantse Agbonaa, the forecourt of the local chief, but that was clearly inadequate for the thousands of visitors as shown by the heaps of rubbish at the end of the day on Saturday. The next morning, however, the streets were clean and ready to go again. I also felt upgrades could be made in the area of security. The Ghana Police Service was around to help in diverting traffic and maintaining calm. However, the understaffed and poorly motivated police force could do little to prevent hooligan motorcyclists from weaving dangerously through the crowd. Visitors were largely on their own guard, watching out for pickpockets and other menaces. My most disappointing revelation during the event was discovering the absence of first aid responders. I do not know if it was an oversight but I think with the next festival, the health and security of everyone present should be prioritized.
Regardless of the hiccups, the team outdid themselves. They continue to redefine and promote street art in Africa, setting up an unrivaled experience. The bliss at the Chale Wote Street Art Festival can only be experienced. As Manifest highlights in his latest track Someway Bi (below), African ingenuity is unparalleled.
Written by Hakeem Adam
Photography by Kwame Osei