It is impossible to talk art in Ghana or Africa without mentioning Chale Wote.
When the official poster was released, the festival’s much desired and inevitable growth was evident. However, I found myself feeling more scared and anxious, than excited, to see if adding two more days to Chale Wote’s programming would increase the satisfaction of the audience and artist; both key to the festival’s success. The new kid on the block? The LABs, a conversation series and precursor to the main event. The two-day segment turned out to be an elaborate opening ceremony devoid of the large crowds and poking camera lenses; a refreshing expedition into the minds of creatives on the firm back of gripping, didactic conversations, unrestricted expression and some tasty sobolo (hibiscus juice aka bissap).
To host the new addition, Accra[dot]Alt made use of intimate, open spaces, steeped in arts, culture, and history – like the Nubuke Foundation and the W. E. B. Du Bois Centre, both located in the Ghanaian capital. In lieu of the “intellectual approach” to discussing art, a more relaxed, yet stimulating mood set the tone for ponderings on a spectrum of topics, including the relevance of women-to-women marriages among the Igbo in Nigeria and the effectiveness of animated films in increasing the appeal of history across age groups. According to Festival Co-Director Dr. Sionne Neely, the large volume of material received through the call to artists and the desire to increase interaction with artists fueled their decision to extend the festival’s length from two to four days.
Temi Kogbe and Boogie Music
The first day of the LABs started off shaky , but eventually eased from a patient simmer into an explosive event with Temi Kogbe’s Boogie Music installation as a much welcome primer. A DJ, vinyl collector and African Music aficionado, Kogbe played a set from his record collection featuring Lagosians in their best James Brown – George Clinton impressions. The Lagos residents’ attempts at replicating the white synths and 808s of the 1970s and 1980s funk era resulted in a then-novel sound which they eventually called Boogie music. Flush with social and political references and influences from its birthplace, the musicians and producers attempted to use white synths, atmospheric guitar riffs and autotuned lyrics to export those experiences through the very popular electronic music.
Stepping into the bedrooms of African women, Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah read accounts from the website she co-founded to unwrap the diversity of African women’s sexuality. Their session combined readings from the website with a scintillating discussion between Sekyiamah, Nana Akosua Hanson, Ama Agyeman, Rafeeat Aliyu and Paula Akugizibweon on their impressions of the queer. Surprisingly (or not surprisingly) enough, the audience was most involved in the conversation and exhibited genuine curiosity for understanding how multifaceted sexuality actually is. Rafeeat Aliyu shared a well-researched post from her blog on women-to-women marriages among pre-colonial Igbo in Nigeria. This prompted questions about whether such marital practices necessarily prove the existence of homosexuality in Africa before contact with the West. Despite the time constraint, Queer Vibrations was a very electric session with the panel taking an unbiased and open-minded approach to examining the dynamics of African women’s sexuality.
No Flex Zone: Keeping Our Cultural Heritage Alive Through Digital Media
The Tastemakers Africa session was one of the reasons I attended the LABs and my expectations were surpassed. The upcoming mobile travel app linked five women from across the continent – Maame Adjei, Twiggy Moli, Yagazi Emezi, Velma Rose and Lesedi Ramone – who are actively involved in re-imaging the African continent through digital media. The women shared insights on African cultural heritage and broadened the audience’s perspective on the potentially good and bad implications of embracing digital media. Velma Rose of Kenyan style duo 2manysiblings voiced her disappointment with the loss of the human element in connecting via digital media – a connection which events like Chale Wote provide. Asked whether they worry about losing Africa’s authentic cultural heritage due to overexposure, Yagazi Emezi expressed her desire for that to happen, remaining optimistic that it would not lead to cultural dilution. A brief and rewarding dialogue; the session was an informal tribute to just how much social media has kept the Pan-African dream going – and how much more attention should be paid to African netizens.
The Artist Is Present
Aside from the panel discussions, a number of visiting artists were given the spotlight by the LABs, notably:
- Nando Nkrumah: Nkrumah’s mesmerizing art is exactly why festivals like Chale Wote should exist – they serve as a platform for introducing exemplary creatives to the whole. The German-Ghanaian artist charmed us with his intricate and seamless “Adinkra” Jewelry collection. His work sums up the African Electronics theme with bold and definitive designs inspired by African folklore and produced with the 3D printing technology. Portraying his sack of ingenuity, he also shared illustrations from an afro-futurism animation project he is currently developing with Ghanaian filmmakers.
- JHB Massive: Chale Wote has proven to be a platform that brings people together. So much such that it was able to unite 15 multidisciplinary artists from Johannesburg into one collective: JHB Massive. Performing throughout the four-day festival, their “No Condition Is Permanent” act blended the work they do in visual arts, theater, design, film, photography, graffiti, music and performance. I spoke at length to Lindiwe Matshikiza and Joao Orecchia who shared the pains and joys of undertaking a crowdfunding project. Although only 8 of the 15 artists were present at the festival, the absent members were well-represented in the act. Highlights include a collaborative performance art installation with Crazinist and Natascia Silverio and their official documenter Dean Hutton, a special “sampler” made from tin tinfoil and plastic trays from the kids of Jamestown, and a jam session transmitted live on radio; featuring Gyedu Bay Ambulley, Kekyeku and Elsa M’bala.
The Film Festival
It is a sad fact that events like Chale Wote are some of the only occasions you might get to see any brilliant, independent films, much more for free. While smatterings of film have graced previous editions of Chale Wote, the LABs offered a frame within which African film could stand on its own. The inaugural Chale Wote Film Festival was very fluid and showcased over 15 local and international films entangled in the African Electronics theme, including two feature films: 100% Dakar and Black President. A documentary by Sandra Krampelhuber on the independent creative scene in Senegal’s capital, 100% Dakar blends multiple interviews with vibrant images of young people harnessing the city’s energetic and creative power. It also captures the purity of art and the importance of allowing artists’ ultimate expression to be experienced globally without “political” influences – precisely what Accra[dot]Alt is doing for for the arts scene in Accra and beyond.
The short film screenings mirrored a blooming independent film scene in Africa I wasn’t aware of. The power of experimentation shone through the screens as the images from JHB Massive’s films – “Security”, “The Impermanence Museum”, “The Goat”, and ” Anthea Moys vs The cuties of Grahamstown and Geneva” – rearranged my perceptions on loneliness, victory and form. Two animations from Ghanaian filmmakers – “Okpo Hunter” and “Agorkoli”- proved to be surprisingly excellent and generated a lot of enthusiasm. Agorkoli – an elongated narrative about the Anlo of Ghana’s escape from King Agorkoli – won the audience’s heart with the superiority and quality of its graphics. Alex Wondergem’s Scrap Metal Men was another film to appreciate. Alex and his crew provide a portrait of neglect – neglected men salvaging neglected metal; a neglected problem. With the artists present, conversation was rife as intended with the LABs.
The LABs are poised to become a permanent fixture in the festival’s line up; where they lacked in numbers (compared to the weekend sessions), they made up for in rich interaction and dialogue. With time, the Chale Wote Film Festival might even compete with larger independent film festivals like Encounters and help fill a vacuum for artistic films. The #AfricanElectronics edition promised to deliver on interaction – which we cherish and encourage at Circumspecte – and it did not disappoint.
Chale Wote has been challenging conventional privilege in art since it’s inception. The magnetic enthusiasm and elation behind the festival is clear: freedom; a place where the weird but expressive and powerful are appreciated without the pretentious air that often lingers between white walls and white wines. Perhaps more important is the question of influence and how this hitherto locally known festival is impacting Jamestown’s – and by extension Ghana’s – children. Each year, their presence at the festival is felt as they gradually move from being mere spectators to becoming active participants in the creation of art. Accra[dot]Alt is doing an admirable job so far of shaping the independent art scene on the continent. We’re willing to bet that the organization will play an important role in shaping the next generation of Ghanaian and African artists. Just watch.
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