I stared in awe – my mind and soul were buried in what lay before me. In my mind’s eye it was so awesome I forgot someone was trying to get my attention. I was fixated with these kids designing kites; they played different roles in the design process by folding papers, sticks and threading kite. One of them drew a prototype of the kite on the pavement with the oldest amongst them cutting and joining paper with broomsticks. The rest were obliged to tie the thread to the kites and test flights.
That’s just one of the fascinating things about James Town, a multi-dimensional space full of creative energy and compelling history. For some reason, James Town lays hidden within Accra, so it makes sense for some people to make ignorant remarks about it when it comes up in conversation because a lot of the time they’ve never been. Furthermore, their only connection to James Town are articles from NGO sites whose relevance is tied to poverty “facts” and slum city reviews they generate in order to sustain funding.
Nonetheless, James Town remains one of the most exciting places in Accra and children play a big part in creating that vibrant energy about it. For those of you looking to rediscover Accra, James Town is a great starting point.
Back to the children building kites – what got my attention the most was the division of labour they employed in their kite-building project. It looked effortless, in that it was their normal creative process. All they wanted was for their kites to fly higher. The pay-off was worth all the hard work they could endure or at least they thought so.
James Town is also one of the few communities where otherness is celebrated, which makes it a very open minded community, more so than some would like to admit. Between the reverence for traditional religious authority and Christian worship centers, there exists this overlapping dichotomy that dates back to the town’s colonial history. James Fort and Ussher Fort are remnants of that past; a short walk from the latter is the Salaga Market, which used to be a slave market.
Salaga Market is now a great place to buy organic food, alternative medicine and ready-to-wear clothes hand made in Accra. This coastal town has more boxing gyms than anywhere else in the country. It makes sense that all of Ghana’s boxing legends have come out of this community. James Town has become synonymous with street art.
Since 2011, the CHALE WOTE STREET ART FESTIVAL has been held in James Town with great success. Between the musical performances, murals, graffiti, extreme sports, experimental theater and fashion, this part of Accra has become a tourist haven. Corporations have since used these murals for commercials and some of Ghana’s biggest music acts like Edem, Rumor and Sarkodie have also claimed these regenerated spaces for their music videos.
CHALE WOTE has become part of the festival culture within Accra drawing massive diverse crowds each year. This edition features five international artists from the continent, Europe and the US. So if you love music, performance and some alternative art come to James Town on the 7th and 8th of September. Maybe you might run into those fascinating kids and who knows, they just might build you a kite.