Sights and Sounds of Chale Wote Festival, Accra

Chale Wote Festival, Accra, Ghana
Chale Wote Festival, Accra, Ghana | Souleiman Oluwatomiwa / © Culture Trip

For eight years, a fishing town in Accra’s oldest district has hosted what is arguably the biggest art festival in West Africa. The Chale Wote Street Art Festival brings together an alluring mix of artists, musicians and Accra’s up-and-coming fashion designers.

The producers of the community-based fête, Accra[dot]Alt, started Chale Wote in 2010 as a street art exhibition and food fair in Mantse Agbonaa, Jamestown. The festival has since grown to be a city-wide phenomenon that attracts about 45,000 people every year, who come together to watch live music and art performances.

Va-Bene Fiatsi’s “AgbaWnu” performance – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Mural by Barbara Siebenlist and Justina Dziabazweski, Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

The James Fort, the Ussher Fort, the old slave-trading base Franklin House and Brazil House form the backdrop to the week-long festival. Co-founder and director of Accra[dot]Alt Mantse Aryeequaye described the festival as “an effort to disrupt the usual way of interacting with art, while reimagining how we use former colonial spaces, especially in Ghana”.

Popular James Town Rasta, Fredrick Allotey, walks by Ussher Fort – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

Festival themes

In 2015, the festival introduced themes, starting with “African Electronics”, which was imagined and inspired by the “indigenous esoteric knowledge that Ghanaians use to create the impossible”. It was a way to look at the transformative natural power that allows Ghanaians to learn, grow and develop. “Spirit Robot” (2016) and “Wata Mata”(2017) sought to symbolise the way in which Africans from all over the world share knowledge. The theme of 2018, “Para Other”, addressed issues of identity, citizenship and belonging.

Supporting artists and art collectives

Chale Wote has been the launchpad for many Ghanaian artists, such as Ibrahim Mahama and Serge Attukwei. Ghanaian collective Nima Muhinmanchi Art has been responsible for creating the colourful festival murals on the walls of Jamestown. Featuring local artists, such as Tetebotan Kali, Moh Awudu, Nico Wayo and Kamaal Shaibu Larry, the Accra-based group is famous for its avant-garde style. For the 2018 theme, it joined forces with two-time Chale Wote muralists Babara Siebenlist (Argentina), Justina Dziabazweska (Poland), and Amina Gimba (Nigeria) and Komi Olaf (Nigeria) to create a collaborative mural.“This is characteristic of a festival that seeks to foster collaboration and the exchange of ideas between Ghanaian and foreign artists,” said Chale Wote’s producer, Jerome Lutterodt.

Chale Wote Festival, Accra, Ghana

Graffiti mural of Kofi Annan by Tetebotan Kali – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Tei Huagie’s aluminium sheet sculptures on High Street – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

The LABs

A major aspect of the festival, and a favourite with participants, is the LABs, in which filmmakers and other visual and performing artists host discussions about their work and life. The LABs is also a cinema, screening independently produced films, including “Tuko Macho” (produced by Kenya’s NEST Collective) and “Lucky” (produced by Ghana’s Abstrakte), and it hosted the Film and Television programme from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 2018.

Maka of Nigeria performing at the LABs Acoustic Night – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

Captivating performance art

Performance art has also been an unmissable highlight of West Africa’s largest street art festival. Kwame Boafo and Va-Bene Fiatsi of Ghana, Cleo Lake of the UK and Thee Ayanda Seoka of South Africa have performed for audiences over the years. Ghanaian-British artist Lesley Asare gave one of the stand-out performances of Chale Wote 2018 with her “Body Arcana”, which was staged at the old Ussher Fort Church.

Regina Sebald’s “Recapture” performance – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

A platform for alternative music

During the 2018 edition, Ga blues-rock band Ozzie & the Others shared the Sabolai Radio Music Stage with EL, Stevo & the Alostmen, The Wazumbians and TeshieBoi. Chale Wote is now recognised as a hitmaker on the Ghanaian music scene, primarily because of its role in propelling alternative and indie musicians into the mainstream. Women DJs, including Nigeria’s Sensei Lo, South Africa’s Bujin, Ghana’s Mitchy and London-based Chooc Ly Tan, have also dominated the stage.

Ghanaian rapper Kula on the Sabolai Radio stage – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
People come to flex – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

Chale Wote’s open runway

For many years during Chale Wote, High Street has become known as the space to exhibit wild and wonderful fashion. Designers and creators use the festival as an opportunity to show their creations. A range of local fabrics, styles and accessories are also on sale at the Crafts Market.

Untamed fashion is always unmissable – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

Sports and stunts

Since the late 1970s boxing has been a big part of the Jamestown community, churning out several world champions, and during the Chale Wote weekend, public boxing matches are held in front of the WATO Building.

Bodybuilders parade around the festival and have become one of the most popular attractions.

The stunts and crashes of extreme sports have also been a very significant feature of Chale Wote, courtesy of legendary Ghanaian stuntmen Martin Ablakwa and The Prince. At the 2017 LABs, Martin Ablakwa explained, “It brings me joy to see a smile of amazement and amusement on a child’s face when I do something deemed impossible.”

Juvenile boxing is one of the festival’s big features – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Ghanaians love their boxing – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
The Machomen’s day out – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana

The Chale Wote Street Art festival is giving a new and louder voice to Ghanaian creatives and breathing new life into Jamestown by providing jobs for more than 100 people in the district.

Board games are a James Town favourite – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
The Regal Horsemen of Northern Ghana show off their stud – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
The Asafoatse of Ga Mashie in procession – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
“Alternative Truths” performance by Stacey Okparavero inside James Fort – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
Charlotte Brathwaite’s “within the sand and the sea: a meditation of lost and forgotten places and people” – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
The Para-Other Quantum Haven by Nana Baffuor Awuah – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
A northern horseman cops an attitude – Chale Wote Street Art Festival, Accra, Ghana
landscape with balloons floating in the air

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