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Photo by Nii Kotei.

Ghana's Winneba Fancy Dress Festival Is a Living Museum

This photo story shows the annual celebration of sheer ingenuity and living history.

Where would you see Mortal Kombat characters, Black Jesus, Donald Trump, members of a royal wedding party and cowboys wielding Supreme cash guns in one place at the same time? At the start of the year in Winneba, a town in the central region of Ghana, these characters and more draped the coastal town in iridescent color for the Winneba Fancy Dress Festival.

The annual masquerade festival is a celebration of sheer ingenuity and living history. The tradition of masquerading emerged from contact with Dutch colonizers who introduced putting on masks and wearing fanciful attires to socialize in many coastal towns in Ghana. The people of Winneba adopted and owned this practice by setting up various masquerade troupes—as far back as the 1930s—to create elaborate characters and perform with marching bands for their townsfolk. In 1957, the institution was formalized by Ghana's first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who sponsored the first parade to mark Ghana's independence. The 60th edition of the festival was spread over an entire week and comprises, exhibitions, panel discussion, tours, various marching floats, all of which culminated into the final parade on new year's day where the four troupes competed for a trophy.


This fervent competition fuels the creativity that holds the festival together as the entire town is split along these troupe lines, with each one attempting to outwit the other with the most bizarre and riveting costumes, stunts, songs and dances. The masquerades borrow heavily from colonial culture by dressing up as some institutions of colonial power from police, cowboys, pastors to garden parties, and other figures that were prominent in that era. There is a deliberate attempt to completely embody this eurocentric appearance, such that every layer of exposed skin is cover with white fabric with straighten hair wigs for both men and women. However, costumes are not limited by colonial history and many reference several personalities from pop culture such as Lebron James and Trump. One particular group paid homage to Ebony, a Ghanaian woman and musician, whose meteoric rise has caused a rethinking of roles women play in the local music scene.

The costumes are engineered to provoke visceral reactions, be it fear, anxiety, or laughter through the exaggerate features. Traditionally, the festival was reserved for men, which meant that a number of them engaged in cross dressing, which is seen as taboo in most Ghanaian community, in order to accurately depict women characters. Today, women are allowed to participate in the festival, yet most of the male participants still put on wigs, earrings, frocks and gowns to become women.

The festival stands out from most masquerade festival on the continent not just because of the long and intriguing history that binds it, but primary due to its constantly evolving visual culture. Participants do not limit their imagination to the tradition that birthed their beloved festival, but look to themselves and their socio-political conditions that permeate society for inspiration for their costumes. As such each year, there will be something new that not only captivates the audience but also doubles as a subtle metaphor for whatever sentiments that dominated the narrative from the past year. The redesigning of predominant images by the masquerades weaponizes their performances to become a tool for imaginative thinking. In a way, the festival is a living museum—it reminds us of the past as well as catalyzing conversation on the conditions of the present.

Click through the slideshow below:

Sports
Photo by Ned Dishman, courtesy of Pops Bonsu.

In Conversation: Meet Pops Mensah-Bonsu—the Ghanaian Former Pro Player Trailblazing the Front Desk of the NBA

We speak to the general manager of the Capital City Go-Go about his journey to professional basketball stardom, his hopes for the Basketball Africa League and more.

Nana Pops Mensah-Bonsu didn't take basketball seriously at first. For the now General Manager of the Capital City Go-Go and a former player in the NBA and European leagues, the game wasn't as exciting as other sports. "For me, I was impressionable," he says, "I was young; all my friends played soccer and ran track. That's what I really wanted to do."

Born and raised in London, England, the former pro with Ghanaian roots (whose name stems from his middle name, Papa—the equivalent to 'junior') grew up playing soccer and running track. His older brother started playing basketball, a relatively invisible sport compared to soccer, when he was about 16 in the early 90s and eventually moved to the U.S. on a scholarship. Mensah-Bonsu says that when parents witnessed his brother's experience, they took it as an opportunity for the rest of their children to do the same—allowing them to have a better opportunity to succeed.

Mensah-Bonsu's dad introduced him to basketball and took him to the other side of London where he started developing his skills. After juggling the three sports with basketball on the back burner, Mensah-Bonsu eventually realized his potential once he made the move stateside himself as a teen. Making a name for himself as a student-athlete at George Washington University, his work ethic led him to a professional career in both the NBA, playing for the likes of the Dallas Mavericks, Minnesota Timberwolves and Toronto Raptors as well as internationally—playing for clubs in Spain, France, Turkey, Russia and Italy, to name a few.

Retiring in his early 30s, Mensah-Bonsu is still a part of the game—but on the decision-making side. Currently serving as the Capital City Go-Go's general manager of the G League (the official minor league of the NBA) in Washington, D.C., he's trying to blaze a trail for more diversity and inclusion in the NBA front office. "I really want to do my best and succeed at this next level because I know how profound and impactful it can be if it's done well," he says. "I put pressure on myself to work extra hard to make sure I can get to this position where I can have that impact on these guys and show them a mirror image of themselves and show them how possible it is."

We caught up with Pops Mensah-Bonsu to learn more about his journey navigating basketball stardom to calling the shots behind the scenes, his hopes for the newly established Basketball Africa League and more in the interview below.

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Music
25K. Photo by Sabelo Mkhabela.

How a 3-Year-Old Song Earned SA Artist 25K a Deal with Universal & a Co-Sign From AKA

We interview 25K, the South African rapper poised to be the country's next star.

AKA was so moved by up-and-coming Pretoria rapper and producer 25K's single "Culture Vulture," he gave him a slot on his monumental Orchestra on the Square concert in March.

"The whole process when Kiernan (AKA's real name) reached out," recalls 25K, who will later admit AKA is one of his favorite artists, "that was like a dream come true for me. We were doing a gig, when I got home, I got a text, and it said, 'Yo, this is Kiernan, hit me back.' So, I saved the number, I was like, 'Yo,' then he FaceTimed me. He was like, '25K, I just had to reach you, dawg. Your song is great,' So, I was out of words. Just listening to him talk to me. He was like, 'Bro, we need to cook up something.' But eventually, time will tell. So the people will get to hear."

Thabiso Khathi, the respected hip-hop head & record label executive popularly known as Hip-Hop Scholar, as well as the newly appointed Head of Urban at Universal Music Group South Africa, lets the cat out of the bag. "I don't know if the world knows that AKA officially jumped on the remix for 'Culture Vulture,' which we will be bringing out in the next few weeks," says Scholar. Today, him and the label have gathered journalists at the Universal Music Group headquarters in Rosebank to witness the young artist's signing.

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News Brief
Photo by Artur Widak/NurPhoto via Getty Images.

Nigerian-British Actor Susan Wokoma's First Rom-Com Feature Film Is In the Works

She's set to write and star in BBC Films-backed 'Three Weeks'—a rom-com drama about abortion.

Just two months ago, we got wind of Susan Wokoma landing a series regular role in CBS' new comedy pilot, Super Simple Love Story.

The Nigerian-British actor and 2017 BAFTA Breakthrough Brit honoree continues to make power moves in entertainment, as it was recently announced that she's in the process of writing her feature debut, Three Weeks, Variety reports.

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