South African artist, Ayanda Seoka, and Zamoo at CHALE WOTE 2018. Photo by OBE Images via ACCRA [dot] ALT.

CHALE WOTE Is the African Street Art Mecca Fostering Limitless Creative Power

An in-depth look into how CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival is proof of the power of independent cultural programming.

ACCRA [dot] ALT, producers of the CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival have managed to turn Accra in August into the Mecca of street art culture, after eight successful editions of one of the biggest and most captivating art events anywhere in the world.

The week-long festival, which has been in a constant state of progressive evolution, has grown from a passion project creating accessible and impactful art and dialogue around social, political and economic issues, to an entire subculture representative of unrestrained self-expression and limitless creative power. CHALE WOTE has become accessible to everyone who may or may not understand the strength of independent culture programming.

The festival brings together different fields of expression from performance, to fashion, to video art through artists of different dispositions and cultural backgrounds hailing from all over the world. These artists create work in response to a theme that's presented in an entirely open environment with the same fervent and militant spirit of street art, which inspired the whole movement. This year's theme, PARA OTHER, presented an urgent need for "evolution beyond the dialectic of belonging and non-belonging"; requesting for the rediscovery and invention of new codes, symbols, sounds and fractal as a basis for reimagining meta-realities.

In response, over 125 Ghana-based and international artists from the spheres of street art, performances, music, photography, literature and extreme sports used their creative energy to harness the abounding power at the festival in producing work deeply rooted in the living history of James Town and Accra, whilst being reflective of diverse cultures and dispositions.

Being an independent community based event, the work was spread across Brazil House, the James Fort and Ussher Fort prisons, all in James Town, as well as 11 other exhibitions sites across the city of Accra.

CHALE WOTE kicked off on Monday, August 20, with the introduction of the SHIKA SHIKA Art Fair at the Brazil House. A psychedelic mix of new and old work by 11 Ghana-based and international artists was displayed in a curated exhibition occupying both floors of the historical home of the Tabom (a group of self-liberated slaves who moved from Brazil to resettle in Ghana). The fair was an avenue to expose the range of expression possible through street art by highlighting unique styles, motifs and characters from the use of lucid color, psychedelic text and multiple landscapes available through the medium.

From the gory and vivid portrait of seasoned Ghanaian street artist, Kwame Akoto "Almighty God," who uses religious treatments to make social commentary, to the dynamic landscapes of Kofi Agorsor, punctuating urban Ghanaian life, to the fresh multiple identities present in the concept photography of myself and Josephine Kuuire, the art fair was a welcomed addition to the event's programing. The fair also was an attempt to tap into the growing commerce base that African art is garnering globally, especially through auction houses and galleries that primarily operate outside Africa. However, in typical CHALE WOTE spirit, the fair was structured in the same vibrant energy that street art possesses, engineered to level the field for artists to be able to profit off their work without having to go through exploitative gatekeeping.

Another highlight of the festival experiences was The LABs, a series of panel discussions, workshops, performances and mixers which serve as an activation session for artists and the audience of the festival to ponder on the work to be presented at the main festival weekend in James Town. Over the course of four days across two satellite locations, almost all the participating artists got share their respective stories, either through a short panel discussion, a workshop session, film screenings or performances.

Indeed, for many core followers of the festival, The LABs have become an unmissable favorite as it greatly facilitates a lot of skills sharing and networking opportunities. British artist and Lord Mayor of Bristol in the UK, Cleo Lake, for example, facilitated a dance workshop at the LABs, taking inspiration from Bristol's history and heraldry alongside Dahomey dance vocabulary from Benin. She then incorporated the participants of the workshop into her performance at the festival. American/Barbadian artist April Bey also returned to the festival to show a new series of print work titled Made in Space, using a unique printmaking technique which she developed and taught at The LABs last year. For many art enthusiasts who may not know how to access knowledge bases to improve their own narrative through creativity, The LABs has become the perfect springboard.

For the main festival weekend, the James Fort Prison and the Ussher Fort Prison, two historical edifices that had remained closed for the past decade, were reopened as exhibition spaces to augment CHALE WOTE's existing community spaces.

El WARCHA, a design studio based in Tunisia, created a series of bamboo structures to serve as seating for the Highlife Café music stage. Their work, which was created over the course of five days with the help of the Jamestown community, directly addressed one of problem CHALE WOTE had faced over the years which has been seating.

Image from "within the sand and the sea": a meditation on lost and forgotten places and people by Charlotte Brathwaite, Abigail DeVille, Jennifer Newman, Ryan Brathwaite, Paul Lieber, Shiela Chukwulozie and Nii Arde Nkpa. Photo courtesy ACCRA [dot] ALT.

Stage director Charlotte Brathwaite (Canada/UK/Barbados), along with her collaborators Abigail DeVille, Jennifer Newman, Ryan Brathwaite, Paul Lieber, Sheila Chukwulozie and Nii Arde Nkpa, also created a riveting site specific performance installation inside one of the main halls of the Ussher Fort Prison, titled within the sand and the sea: a meditation on lost and forgotten places and people. This collaborative project, like most of the site specific work at the festival, sourced its core from the living history of the prison—which is an important bookmark in Ghana's history as an institution which held the enslaved in transition, to various political prisons at pivotal points in our liberation struggle from colonialism and neo-colonialism.

For something as powerful as CHALE WOTE, which manages to bring over 40,000 people from across the world to witness the work of about 125 artists over one week in Accra, Ghana, its impact is the proof of the power of independent cultural. The festival has completely transformed discourse on art in Accra, from a prop for the lives of the rich to a tool to counter economic and social injustice.

James Town is now an important site for creative culture as some of the residents have used the festival to grew their own art practice and also take advantage of the economic opportunities CHALE WOTE brings each August. This power produced by the festival is sustainable by the immense love that the festival producers and the community supporting it have for the festival. As long as the power remains accessible, CHALE WOTE will continue to impact and transform human expression in ways beyond established parameters, just as the theme for this edition, PARA OTHER, calls for.

Hakeem Adam is an instinct creative in love with beautiful sentences and the angst of communicating complex ideas in poetry. He frequently expresses this angst in simple sentences on his blog. He also loves to talk about African film and music classics on his platform, Dandano. Keep up with Hakeem on Twitter at @mansah_hakeem.



1. SOURCE by Regina Magdalena Seblad (Germany), a performance piece with five other women from all the continent. Photo by OBE Images via ACCRA [dot] ALT.

2. Festival-goers posing in front of a piece by Kofi Agorsor at the opening of the SHIKA SHIKA Art Fair. Photo by Abdul Arafat via ACCRA [dot] ALT.

3. British artist and Lord Mayor of Bristol in the UK, Cleo Lake, performing at The LABs at CHALE WOTE 2018. Photo by Abdul Arafat, courtesy ACCRA [dot] ALT.

4. Image from "within the sand and the sea": a meditation on lost and forgotten places and people by Charlotte Brathwaite, Abigail DeVille, Jennifer Newman, Ryan Brathwaite, Paul Lieber, Shiela Chukwulozie and Nii Arde Nkpa. Photo courtesy ACCRA [dot] ALT.

5. Large scale sculpture installation by Tei Huagie (Ghana) Along the walls of the Ussher Fort Prison. Photo by Abdul Arafat via ACCRA [dot] ALT.


The 12 Songs You Need to Hear This Week

Featuring Sarkodie, Cassper Nyovest, Elaine, Darkovibes, Stogie T, Phyno, C Natty, and more.

Every week, we highlight the cream of the crop in music through our best music of the week column.

Here's our round up of the best tracks and music videos that came across our desks, which you can also check out in our Songs You Need to Hear This Week playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Follow our SONGS YOU NEED TO HEAR THIS WEEK playlist on Spotify here and Apple Music here.

Check out all of OkayAfrica's playlists on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo courtesy of CNOA

These Colombian Civil Rights Activists Are Fighting to Make Sure Afro-Colombians are Counted in the Census

When 30 percent of Colombia's Black citizens disappeared from the data overnight, a group of Afro-Colombian activists demanded an explanation.

It was the end of 2019 when various Black organizations protested in front of the census bureau—The National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (DANE)—in Bogotá, Colombia to show their dissatisfaction about what they called a "statistical genocide" of the black population. The census data, published that year, showed 2.9 million people, only 6 percent of the total population of the country, was counted as "Afro-Colombian," "Raizal," and "Palenquero"—the various terms identifying black Colombians.

For many years, Afro-Colombians have been considered the second largest ethno-racial group in the country. Regionally, Colombia has long been considered the country with the second highest number of Afro-descendants after Brazil, according to a civil society report.

Why did the population of Afro-Colombians drop so drastically?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists protesting erasure of Afro-descendants in front of the census bureau.

Last year, a crowd of activists gathered in Bogota to protest what they saw as erasure of Black communities in the Colombian census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

In the latest national census report from 2018/2019, there appeared to be a 30.8 percent reduction of the overall group of people that identified as Black, Afro-Colombian, Raizal, and Palenquero, as compared to the 2005. After this controversial report, an Afro-Colombian civil rights organization known as the National Conference of Afro Colombian Organizations (CNOA), officially urged DANE to explain the big undercounting of the black population.

This wasn't a small fight. Representatives who hold the special seats of Afro-Colombians in Colombia's congress asked the census bureau to attend a political control debate at the House of Representatives in November 2019 to deliver an accountability report. "The main goal of doing a political debate was to demand DANE to give us a strong reason about the mistaken data in the last census in regard to the Afro population," said Ariel Palacios, an activist and a member of CNOA.

At the debate, the state released an updated census data report saying that, almost 10 percent of the Colombian population—4.6 million people out of 50.3 million—considers themselves Afro-Colombians or other ethnicities (like Raizal, and Palenquero). But despite DANE trying to confirm the accuracy and reliability on the latest census report it was clear that, for a variety of reasons, Black people were missed by the census. The state argued that their main obstacles with data collection were related to the difficulties of the self-recognition question, as well as security reasons that didn't allow them to access certain regions. They also admitted to a lack of training, logistics and an overall lack of success in the way the data collectors conducted the census.

How could they have counted Black populations better?

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists playing drums in front of the census bureau.

Drummers performing during a protest against the Colombian census bureau's erasure of Afro-Colombians from the 2018 census.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

These arguments were not reasonable for the civil rights activists, partially because the state failed to properly partner with Afro-organizations like CNOA to conduct or facilitate extensive informational campaigns about the self-identification questions.

"CNOA has worked on self-recognition and visibility campaigns among the Afro community and this census ignored our work," says priest Emigdio Cuesta-Pino, the executive secretary of CNOA. Palacios also thinks that the majority of Afro-Colombians are aware of their identity "we self-identify because we know there is a public political debate and we know that there is a lack of investment on public policies."

That's why it is not enough to leave the statistical data to the official census bureau to ensure that Afro-Colombian communities are fully counted in the country. And the civil rights activists knows that. They made a big splash in the national media and achieved visibility in the international community.

Thanks to The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a human rights organization, Palacios traveled to D.C to meet with Race and Equality institution and a Democratic Congressman. "We called for a meeting with representative Hank Johnson to talk about the implementation of Colombia's peace accords from an Afro-Colombian perspective but also to address the gross undercounts of its black population," says Palacios.

For the activists at CNOA, the statistical visibility of the Black population is one of their battles. They have fought for Afro population recognition for almost two decades. "Since the very beginning CNOA has worked on the census issue as one of our main commitments within the statistical visibility of the Afro-Colombian people," says priest Cuesta-Pina. Behind this civil organization are 270 local associations, who work for their rights and collective interests.

The activists want to raise awareness on identity. Because according to Palacios, "In Colombia, there is missing an identity debate—we don't know what we are. They [the census bureau] ask if we are black, or if we are Afro-Colombians. But what are the others being asked? If they are white, mestizo or indigenous?" Palacios believes that for "CNOA this debate is pending, and also it is relevant to know which is the character of this nation."

Afro-Colombian Populations and the Coronavirus

Afro-Colombian, Black, Raizal, and Palenquero civil-rights activists use mock coffins and statistics to protest erasure of Afro-descendants

Colombian civil-rights activist insist that undercounting Afro-descendants can have a real impact on the health of Afro-Colombian communities, especially during the COVID-19 coronavirus crisis.

Photo courtesy of CNOA

Even though the state recently "agreed with to give us a detailed census report" and make a different projection with the micro data, says Palacios, now with the Covid-19 emergency, CNOA and the government has suspended all meetings with them, including cancelling a second congressional debate and the expert round table meeting to analyze the data.

Unfortunately, it is exactly in situations like the Covid-19 emergency where data analysis and an accurate census report would have been useful. According to the professor and PhD in Sociology Edgar Benítez from Center for Afro Diasporic Studies—CEAF, "Now it is required to provide a reliable and timely information on how the contagion pattern will spread in those predominantly Afro regions in the country and what is the institutional capacity in those places to face it," says Benítez.

He adds that this information is "critical at the moment because the institutional capacity is not up to provide it at the current situation". That's why the Center for Afro Diasporic Studies plans to work with DANE information from the last census. According to Benítez, "We are thinking of making comparisons at the municipal level with the information reported in the 2018 Quality of Life Survey, in order to have a robust and extensive database as possible on the demographic, economic and social conditions of the black, afro, Raizal and Palenquera population in Colombia."

News Brief
Still from YouTube

Nigerian Officials Drop Charges Against Naira Marley for Violating Coronavirus Lockdown Order

The Nigerian star was arraigned on Wednesday for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele.

Naira Marley has been pardoned by Lagos authorities, after being arraigned in Lagos for attending a party at the home of Nollywood actress Funke Akindele last weekend, which violated the city-wide lockdown.

According to a report from Pulse Nigeria, the "Soapy" singer and two other defendants—politician Babatunde Gbadamosi and his wife—were ordered to write formal apologies to the Government of Lagos, give written assurance that he will follow the ordinance going forward, and go into self-isolation for 14 days.

Keep reading... Show less
Photo by Bird Lambro

In Conversation With Cameroonian Drag Artist Bebe Zahara Benet: 'You Don't Stop Doing Your Work'

The U.S.-based Cameroonian artist speaks to us about her upcoming EP, Broken English, and how she's navigating the world of music amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Bebe Zahara Benet is three things: fierce. fabulous, and a force. For avid followers and fans of the reality show RuPaul's Drag Race, you may remember Bebe Zahara Benet as the winner of the inaugural season of the program back in 2009. Since then, she's gone on to star in TLC's Dragnificent and more recently, has been back in the recording studio working on her upcoming EP, Broken English.

Last week, she dropped "Banjo," the first single o the EP. It's a fun, energetic and uninhibited number that likens romantic pursuits to the sweet harmonies of the stringed instrument. Naturally, the accompanying music video is just as vibrant and light-hearted.

The Cameroonian drag artist moved to the United States when she was 19-years-old and has grown to see herself as belonging to two homes. She's put out a ton of music including including the EPs Face and Kisses & Feathers, as well as a number of singles including "Fun Tonite", "Get Fierce (Lose Yourself)" and "Starting a Fire." Currently based in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she says that it's been two years since she's put out original music and it's time to give her fans what they've been asking for.

We spoke with Bebe Zahara Benet on lockdown from her home in Minneapolis, and got to hear more of what went into creating her upcoming project, the challenges of being an alternative artist from a conservative African country and how she's navigating the world of music during the coronavirus outbreak.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox