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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.
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”.
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.
Chale Wote Festival, Accra, Ghana
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.