Drops of water flicker onto my face as I walk into Brazil House, where Samoa Kpakpo-Mark Hansen is pouring libation to open CHALE WOTE 2017. “When wata come in,” he later explains, “everything change”. The courtyard is charged with quiet intensity as he breaks down the festival theme, WATA MATA, concluding with a blessing to protect everyone who has gathered in James Town for the festival.
We move out to the street for a dose of African Electronics by Hutor Adzimashie Bali and the Hu-Koku Association, whose drumming beats at fever pitch as they perform death-defying stunts — machete slashes that don’t draw blood, fire that doesn’t burn skin. The waves of spirit are so strong that I have to step back into the courtyard for a few minutes to let it all soak in.
As night falls, the crowd progresses towards High Street for a procession to the shrine at James Fort prison, an act of remembrance in honor of the enslaved who passed through these forts. A long file of people clad in white, Steloo leading with trippy music from the deck, streams down to the shrine then back to the Brazil House courtyard, where Tifali Cultural Consults lead us into the final performance of the day: a reinterpretation of last year’s theme, Spirit Robot. The 25 women balance pots of fire, incense and baskets on their heads they flow through their elaborate dance sequence which feels at once like an act of defiance and a ceremony of healing.
The evening concludes with exhibitions inside the ACCRA [dot] ALT space @ Brazil House, featuring over a dozen artists from Ghana and beyond. As we walk into the exhibition, a South African friend visiting Ghana for the first time lights up when she hears the lyrics to the song floating from the speakers — “that’s Xhosa!” she exclaims, surprised and happy to hear her home language on the other side of the continent.
In tune with this, the art on display spans many African worlds. Lineo Segoete presents a collection of photographs by various Basotho artists portraying a lesser-known side of contemporary Lesotho. Edward and Cecilia Lamptey, a father-daughter duo, use intricate paintings to explore symbols in Nigerian and Ghanaian culture.
‘Naughty Nii’ by Comfort Arthur, a series about CHALE WOTE from the viewpoint of the children of James Town — once described to me by an elderly man as the most stubborn in the whole of Ghana, if not the entire world — makes me smile. And even while dancing later in the evening, I struggle to tear my eyes away from Sel Kofiga’s ‘Umbrage — Making Faces’: black-and- white paintings of haunting facial expressions that ‘unmask the collective face of Ghanaian society’, in order to disrupt the silence around issues such as classism.
It is hard to forget, and important to remember, the painting that greets you as you enter the ACCRA [dot] ALT space: a visual oath rich in Vodu symbols and introduced by words whose font seems playful at first glance, until you read the message: ‘If you are asked to bring a muzungu head and you refuse, this oath will kill you’. Part of his larger ‘Hunter Hunted’ Series, this is Efo Sela’s ‘Blood is Thicker than Water’ — a series that uses the spiritual power of blood to bind African peoples from around the world in the fight against neo-colonialism, racism and oppression.
And so we begin.
Written by Paula Akugizibwe
View the entire Recap series for CHALE WOTE 2018 here