The climax of the CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival took place at James Town over the weekend following a busy and fulfilling week of activities across 15 art spaces in Accra. The 7th edition of the festival themed WATA MATA brought together the work of over 200 Ghana-based and international artists in one of Accra’s oldest and most historic communities. This year’s edition was also the final part of a thematic trilogy stretching back to African Electronic (2015) and Spirit Robot (2016), hence the work reverberated the connections between these knowledge and action systems. By reaching WATA MATA, we also achieve a flow to regenerate a space of innovation, imagination, connection and possibility by working together.
In case you missed the festival or did not get a chance to completely immerse yourself in the experiences, ride this wave of images and text and time travel back to the excitement of those weekend August days, reliving the installations, exhibitions, performances and concerts.
Inside James Fort, Ussher Fort and Brazil House
The CHALE WOTE weekend was a bit different from previous editions of the festival as most of the installations and exhibitions were housed inside Brazil House, Brazil Lane, James Fort Prison and Ussher Fort. This decision was made to allow more room for human traffic on the streets and to protect and preserve the artworks. These historical edifices were transformed by the participating artists into shrines and museums of street art, layered with the histories those walls already hold. Thousands of people walk through the enthralling gates of the forts to experience the work on display as well as to interact with these spaces that have been largely inaccessible to visitors and hidden from public witness for years and in the case of James Fort, a decade.
Latifah Iddriss’s installation inside Ussher Fort titled, “A Consciousness Project” elicited visceral reactions from the audience. Having carpeted the ground floor of one the middle of a block of cells with mainly plastic waste, the artist compels shock by forcing the audience to walk through the waste and observe their own reactions on the mirror structures and glass prisms arranged at various angles throughout the space.
James Fort – for the first time – housed the work of over 15 Ghana-based and international artists. Over the weekend, many curious visitors squeezed through the partly rusted and narrow crawlspace to experience the other side filled with performance art, video art, photography, digital art, installations and exhibitions in the space. Chriss Nwobu (Nigeria) and Lenneke Bisschop (Netherlands) began their performance titled “Rituals of Becoming” in James Fort before moving out to the street in processional performance. This performance interrogated the use of water through Fela Kuti’s “Water No Get Enemy” and how water connects humans and constructs social and sacred processes of the every day. Va-Bene Elikem Fiatsi (Ghana) and John Herman (Germany) performed “Bond H20” by exploring water as a binding agent that also forms the necessary relationships of support and kinship for human beings. Situated in a large pool of mud, littered with decaying cattle bones at the threshold of the James Fort Prison, the pair in a collaborative piece explored the chemical bonds that constitutes water and how that serves as the basic bond for life. They ended the performance by walking together and helping to carry one another on the long procession throughout the festival route.Josephine Kuuire and Mantse Aryeequaye bounced dream hypotheses off the roof of the inner courtyard of the James Fort Prison with a mystic photography, video art and performance installation titled, “A Country Formerly Known As Ghana”. The multimedia exhibition served a petri dish for imagining a world where Ghana was never colonized as the Gold Coast. It looks at how cultures in Ghana are embedded with colonial desire and military control by visualizing the performance practices of the Winneba Masquerade. The installation examines historical trauma by focusing a lens on tragic events such as the Bubonic Plague of 1908 in Accra and envisioned by the artists as biochemical warfare enacted to devastate the Ga state.
The varied exhibitions on both floors of Brazil House continued by welcoming attendees to interact with the work of Sel Kofiga, Comfort Arthur, Cecilia and Edward Lamptey, Efo Sela Kodjo Adjei, Alexi Osei Bonsu, Quentin VerCetty (Canada), Isshaq Ismail, Nana Anoff, Lineo Segoete (LeSotho), Martin Toloku, Surf Ghana and Theresa Ankomah.
Teams of street artists from Ghana Graffiti and Nima Muhinmanchi Art (NMA) also transformed the exterior walls of the buildings along Brazil Lane and canvases on High Street into mesmerizing murals, visualizing their interpretations of WATA MATA. Argentine muralist Barbara Siebenlist (Argentina) created a universe on Brazil Lane, demonstrating her love for working with youth in a mural of a young girl visual artist activating limitless imagination and creativity. Ehalakasa also set up their poetry lab on Brazil Lane, right in front of Brazil House, where Crystal Tetteh, Mama-T, Sir Black and Hondred Percent lead the spoken word and poetry incubator’s exciting shows including open mics, workshop sessions and slam competition on both days of the weekend.
The CHALE WOTE experience is not quite complete without witnessing or taking part in one of the many processions at the festival. Many artists and audience members took their interpretations of the festival theme WATA MATA to the streets during the weekend, creating mobile performances, processions and installations that echo their artistic sentiments about the entire trilogy of themes, including African Electronics (2015) and Spirit Robot (2016).
The African Body Snatchers, glistening in blue glitter, flowy fabrics, and palm ferns, the performance artists magnetized the crowds of onlookers as they processed from the James Fort Prison to the rocky sea front behind Ussher Fort for their performance. The four women who journeyed from the U.S. carrying waters from Jamestown, Virginia, in celebratory return back home and reconnecting with the Source, and ended their performance by integrating those waters to the ocean in James Town, Accra. Their procession spotlighted the historical and spiritual link between the continent of Africa and the African diaspora as well as clap back on the derogatory term “African booty scratcher”.
Another procession that generated a lot of traction even before the festival began was the Mami Wata Procession. This all-woman procession took place from Ussher Fort all the way to James Fort with women dressed in white and blue to drive away the negative energy from the festival grounds. Members of the Young Feminist Gathering in Ghana helped to lead the procession which spoke out against violence against women and the need to activate more spaces for women to freely enjoy themselves in public and private spaces that provide safety, inclusion and freedom from harassment, intimidation and terrorization. The procession also highlighted the power, healing and joy that comes from sisterhood solidarity.
The last day of the festival ended with a master procession of CHALE WOTE artists and production team members marching together down High Street and the festival route. The WATA MATA procession was led by Martin Kwaku Abrokwah and the Flat Land Boys biker crew and Samoa Mark-Kpakpo Hansen and included more than 50 persons including the festival curators, Efo Sela Adjei and Kwame Akoto-Bamfo. This procession signified the concept of the festival theme representative in the energetic currents of connection flowing between each participant in the festival.
Dzala Butiq Art Fair at CHALE WOTE
This year, our street art pop-up fair, Dzala Butiq, had a special set up at CHALE WOTE. Both days of the weekend along Brazil Lane, the street art fair hosted a variety of works from established and emerging Ghana-based and international artists including paintings, sculptures, prints, rare highlife albums, collectible artifacts and large scale works. This unique sale offered visitors to the opportunity to support artists by purchasing their works and carrying a historical piece of the festival back home. The catalog for the art fair also extends to all the pieces exhibited at the festival, including inside Brazil House, Ussher Fort and James Fort.
The Highlife Cafe and the SABOLAI RADIO Stage
CHALE WOTE always jams hard and this year was no exception. 2017 featured a showcase of rich traditional, contemporary and futuristic Ghanaian sounds with sweet drops & strains across many waters. The Highlife Cafe (Mantse Agbonaa) and the Sabolai Radio Stage (Otublohum Square), the main music outlets, gave festivalgoers a chance to dance and sing along with some of their favorite artists while also introducing audiences to new sounds. While the Highlife Cafe served as the festival’s mainstage concert, Sabolai Radio provided a more intimate experience for both artists and attendees.
DJ Sets started on both stages with DJ Noss (Martinique) and DJ Segs opening up Sabolai Radio and Highlife Cafe respectively. The Martinique musicmaker continued with Bèlé influenced jams he debuted during the CHALE WOTE Labs on Thursday. As the crowd grew bigger at the Highlife Cafe, Eff the DJ, Mitchy TMSKD and DJ Keyzuz together with Johnny Stone and Sheldon the Turn Up invoked dancing spirits in the audience. As tough an act as this was to follow up, Naija House DJ, Sensei LO kept the vibe on a high as she spun some of the best West African sounds with some deep electro touches. From the South Side of Chitown (U.S.), Joy Ma threw the crowd back with some classic 90s Hip Hop/R&B. She mixed it up with some dirty trap and House from the South Side. Simultaneously on the Sabolai Radio stage, Jowaa gave the James Town folks something to jive to, with his electro Ga Mashie music. Full of flavor!
The Grind Day specialist Kwesi Arthur broke bars with songs from his new EP, Live From Nkrumah Krom. His electric performance caused chaos in the mosh pit and was matched by the ever-eclectic AI who performed some fan favorites like “Anger Management” and “Grind”. TeshieBoi and Nii Funny caused beautiful mayhem with their Azonto music. The energetic James Town crowd brought out all the moves. Artists from Alex Wondergem, Bryan the Mensah and Odartei also hit solid on a crowd that proved to be very exacting.
The Musical Lunatics band let out a genius set of performances featuring an array of styles and fusions. The Cat Mama, Ria Boss, moved the tough James Town crowd to some covers of Bob Marley and then switched it up with songs like “Love Yourself” and “Flame On” from her Find Your Free EP. It was evident that her kindle of fans had grown bigger as the audience started to sing along to tha Boss’ hooks. Kwadjo Spiri also hit the stage with a Highlife influenced rap music. The infectious track “Ogya” became an instant favorite. The Wazumbians and XLNC were not left out of the action, boozing the people on their strong Highlife sounds. From the stage you could see waves of dances flowing through Mantse Agbonaa.
Stevo Atambire & The Alotsmen brought the heat with their traditional Kologo music from northern Ghana. The excited crowd broke into rare rollick as Stevo played his creatively improvised Kologo made from an old glue can. Wanlov da Kubolor closed out the weekend with music from his Orange Card album. The Fruitopian music maker first joined Stevo and his band of merry men before shucking and jiving with the festival goers on his own.
In retrospect, Chale Wote 2017 was a burst of beautiful sounds and radiant colors. Hopefully in the editions to follow, we’ll have more established and independent artists mixing it up at the festival. We look forward to a translation of the energies of the festival into meaningful, creative work.Music at The Highlife Cafe and Sabolai Radio was curated by Nii Noi Adom and Hakeem Adam.
As the rhythms of the 7th edition of the festival continue to reverberate across the universe, the WATA at the end of this cycle will nourish the new beginnings sprouting wildly with promise. Stay tuned for the next stage of evolution of the festival in 2018.
Written by Nii Noi Adom & Hakeem Adam.
Photos: Abdul Arafat and Nii Kotei Nikoi