Ghana’s vibrant cultural heritage took centre stage during the 13th edition of the Chale Wote Street Art Festival, a week-long celebration that has evolved into a spectacular showcase of creativity, culture, and community since its inception in 2011. This annual event, originally a single-day gathering in Jamestown, now draws thousands of local and international visitors each year.
In 2019, the event recorded about 50,000 participants although it doesn’t explain the breakdown of the participants’ demographics.
In a recent interview with Joy Prime, one of the organizers of the festival explained the event’s origins and their motivation.
“It was initially conceived to promote the Gamashie community and its tourism potential. Before Chale Wote, the groundwork had already been laid through local festivals like Kpalogo and Jama. The goal was to infuse street art into the community, with children creating art and drawings right on the streets, turning it into an authentic indigenous art festival,” he said.
“Regarding the name of the event, Interestingly, the name “Chale Wote” was misunderstood at first but actually means “Friend, Let’s Go” in Ga. Gathering the youth and children, along with the Royal School brass band parading through the community, became a unique way of announcing the festival’s arrival”.
The journey was not without its challenges. Initially, attracting participants and even food vendors was an uphill task. To entice them, the organizers provided lunch on the first day, ensuring vendors didn’t leave their stalls to go home and eat. The festival’s success prompted its expansion to two days, starting on Saturday and culminating on Sunday, marked by grand bands performing by attending artists, both stars and upcoming.
Magneto Motherland: This Year’s Theme
This year’s festival, under the theme “Magneto Motherland,” celebrated the unique attributes and empowerment of Africans. From August 21 to 27, attendees immersed themselves in a jubilant exploration of Ghana’s rich cultural heritage and its influence on the global diaspora.
This theme reverberated through the art exhibited by participating artists. Murals commemorated Ghana’s victory over colonizers and delved into the history and culture of Jamestown, the festival’s iconic location in Accra. Jamestown is a historical site of Ghanaian culture and heritage. It was a major port and trading center during the colonial era. And it still retains many of its historical landmarks, such as the James Fort and Ussher Fort. The festival has however been moved from Jamestown to Osu/Blackstar Square.
Organizers say this new venue also showcases Ghanaian culture and heritage differently and is spacious enough to host a larger number of celebrants.
Artworks at this year’s addressed critical social and environmental issues, while some aimed to inspire beauty and joy.
Benjamin Ashalley Kotey, one of the artists, explained his work titled “Dominion” as a symbol of victory, depicting two figures atop a giraffe symbolizing Ghana’s triumph over colonizers. The giraffe, typically not a rideable animal, symbolized Ghanaian strength and the right to dominion. It encapsulated the jubilation and celebration following their hard-fought victory.
The Chale Wote Street Art Festival served as a global meeting point, where artists and audiences from Ghana and beyond celebrated African heritage and culture through various artistic mediums.
The festival commenced on Monday, August 21, with a lively procession from Independence Square to Osu Township. Participants dressed in pristine white attire symbolizing harmony and good fortune, poured libations at the Osu Klottey Shrine and various vantage points, seeking spiritual guidance throughout the week’s festivities.
The procession offered a glimpse of historical landmarks within the Osu community, including the Osu Castle (Christiansborg Castle), built by the Danish in the 17th century. It served as a seat of government for colonial powers and later independent Ghana until 2013.
Throughout the week, a diverse range of events unfolded, including captivating art exhibitions, enriching workshops, thought-provoking film screenings, and electrifying live performances featuring music, dance, poetry, and spoken word by exceptionally talented artists.
– Dance Like a River A documentary portrait of Odadaa!, a drumming and dance troupe from Ghana West Africa.
– Stick is Life A pilot documentary that explores the Moko Jumbie community in South Trinidad and their practice of stilt-walking.
– Cocooned in Harmony A documentary detailing how the songs of indigenous Ghanaian artisanal fisher-folk serve purposes beyond ‘mere’ accompaniments to their fishing work.
– Experience new soundscapes and waves: DJ mix by Abel Gayvlor, one of the most imaginative photographers in Africa, who is also a lecturer at the University of Media, Arts & Communication in Ghana.
King Ayisoba a renowned Ghanaian traditional musician also graced the event with some marvellous performances.
– This is Not Make-Believe*: An exhibition by Ghanaian art collective Afuabe that tells the story of Afro-Brazilian abolitionists who fought their way out of enslavement during the Male rebellion in Bahia in 1835.
– ASORKPOR: A Visual Exploration into Musical Vibration [SEANOKKAI]: A visual exploration of the vibrant musical culture of Accra, Ghana, through the lens of SEANOKKAI’s street photography.
– Storytelling and Writing for a Film session with Botlhale Boikanyo, a celebrated South African poet and actress.
– Film Master Class with Dr. Jerry Mofokeng, a world-renowned actor who starred in the Oscar award-winning film “Tsotsi.”
The Chale Wote Street Art Festival continues to grow each year, solidifying its position as a beacon of creativity and unity in the heart of Accra. This annual gathering not only showcases Ghana’s creative prowess but also highlights its role in nurturing a sense of belonging among the global African diaspora. In today’s interconnected world, events like the Chale Wote Street Art Festival remind us of the enduring significance of cultural celebrations in forging both local and global bonds.