Chale Wote Through My Eyes and My Lens
The phenomenon that is Chale Wote is one that needs to be studied; probably a doctoral thesis to delve more into how something that started with a few hundred people now pulls tens of thousands of people to James Town, British Accra in one ordinary weekend every summer. I can’t easily mention any idea or phenomenon in the West African sub-region that has seen such a wildfire growth the way Chale Wote has. With people from every continent of the world (Chinese, Indians, Latinos, Europeans, Americans, Australians, and other Africans) and people purposely buying plane tickets to come see Chale Wote makes it no small phenomenon to think of talking about it lightly. This is why I was glad to see the brains behind this whole concept, Mantse Aryeequaye and Sionne Neely being named in the Quartz Africa 2016 African Innovators list.
I didn’t know about Chale Wote till I came across some pictures from the 2014 edition and I was so mesmerized by the pictures I saw: the bright colours, the funkiness of the attendees’ dressing, the various art pieces on display, the mouth-gaping acrobatic stunts and essentially how amazing the photos looked. I therefore promised myself that I’m not missing the next edition for all the kelewele on the streets of my part of Accra. So I attended last year’s edition for a day. This year I’m doing two days, God willing.
Many people say Ghanaians and Africans in general don’t participate in, encourage or celebrate culture and the arts. We probably have to revise that opinion. I think for many years, we hadn’t packaged our art into forms that appealed to a wide and diverse audience. Chale Wote is changing the narrative and the world must hear about it.
Features of Chale Wote
As I made two rounds of walking from one end of the Chale Wote Street to the other, I made these observations:
It’s a place to bump into people you have not seen in a long time. Amazing how it’s only at Chale Wote that I meet some mates from school, folks I have not seen in years and those I do not get the chance to see often!
It’s a place to see people you’ll have no dog’s chance in hell of seeing on a normal day. All of our lives, we’ve been with people who look like us, think like us and behave like us. Chale Wote is a melting point of people from all walks of life, including people you see and you know that their worldview and way of life is totally different from yours.
It’s a great addition to our traditional festivals as a way of promoting culture. Our traditional leaders must have taken notice, as they probably have read about how Chale Wote is pulling more crowds than the festivals they are custodians of. For those of us who will not attend a traditional festival, the Chale Wote street art festival is a great alternative for us.
It’s not a festival for the stars. It’s one for the rest of us. Our entertainment essentially revolve around music, movie and sports stars. At Chale Wote, that table is turned; the stars are the indigenous people with their sometimes crude yet mesmerizing way of entertaining us, the “underground artistes” who do not have an audience of more than a hundred people and everyone else whose presence adds up to the artistic fusion. I passed through a mini concert and I was amazed at the talent on there. Those singers will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with our celebrated music stars when it comes to talent. The rappers I listened to will murder some of our rapper-stars. I mean GodMC and Kanta can go down the drain. We found better rappers. 🙂 Let’s wait for them to break through the stardom cloud or better yet, help them so that their stars shine early enough.
Chale Wote is the only place where the stars are stripped of their stardom. I saw a couple of movie stars walking around. Though they try to hide behind their dark sunglasses, people don’t take a second to figure them out. No fans gather around them to feel their skin, get their authographs or request for a selfie.
It’s a place for new ideas to get an audience with the world. It’s a no-brainer that a large crowd means greater awareness about your products or business. Do you have a new idea? Then Chale Wote is probably the place to introduce your product or offering to a lot of first-timers who may well become users and future ambassadors. Just get yourself a booth and volunteers to market whatever you have to sell. A good example is accessaccra.com, who I fell in love with their branding and marketing strategy, drawing attention to their booth with their picture frame and getting hundreds of people to sign up to their website.
It’s a place to do business by making some sales. If your idea is not new, and you have products to sell, Chale Wote may well be a good place to make some cedis. With a good number of small known and unknown businesses displaying and selling their wares, Chale Wote is a place to make some money or get new people to know about your product or service. How much sales the businesses make will probably depend on the product they are offering and how the thousands of attendees find them needed at that moment in their lives. Generally I think those selling clothes, fashion accessories and crafts will make the most sales.
The people of James Town continue with their lives. Though Chale Wote buys out the main road passing through James Town and steal the show from local players for two days, wayside businesses continue, mothers cook their food in sight, men gather to drink beer from their favorite local spot, mourning families gather along the street to mourn their bereaved loved ones, and children move about playing the games they have always been playing.
Some Tips and Tricks for the Chale Wote Reveler
Though today is the last day of this year’s edition of Chale Wote, I believe this article will be a useful guide for those who will be attending this evening and as a future resource for those who will come across it God willing next year.
Go early enough: Chale Wote starts at 10am. People start moving in even before time. By midday, there’s a sizeable number. In the early afternoon, a small dispersed crowd starts building. Late afternoon from 3 pm onwards, there’s a crowd, but one you can easily navigate through with parts of the high street still open for free movement. From 4 pm onwards, the mammoth crowd starts building. By 5pm, the human traffic starts and gets to its crazy peak by 6pm. During this time, the traffic is so bad that on most stretches of the road, you have to move at a snail’s pace with people closely behind you and holding onto you in some instances. If someone touches you, he has no intention of harming you or stealing from you. It’s just for her to gain some stability in the slowly-moving crowd. This crowd also means you can’t see some displays and stunts very well, making the process of photographing the things you see quite a challenge. So my advice to you? Go early enough if you want to photograph and to really appreciate the stuff on display. Anytime between 1pm and 3pm will enable you to appreciate the stuff on display and take some epic shots.
Don’t go alone: Chale Wote is an experience and that experience is enhanced when you have a buddy to move about with. So I completely understood when folks on Twitter were openly tweeting, asking for anyone who could be a walking partner. I was at Chale Wote alone last year so I know how it feels like being alone in that huge crowd. This year, I had someone to move about with, and it made it all the much better.
Get a photographer friend if you don’t have a DSLR camera. The colours and the activities at Chale Wote is one to be photographed. And though some phones can do a good job, having at least a beginner level Canon or Nikon or even a great point-and-shoot camera will give you great pictures to look back on. So pick your dslr if you have one. If you don’t have one, it will be worth the investment to request for a friend’s camera, hire one or move with someone who has one.
Devise a strategy of meeting up with friends: Another advantage of going to Chale Wote early and having your friends come early is that you get to meet everyone. In a phone call or two, you meet the people you have planned to meet. However, if you get there when that large crowd has been built up, your chances of meeting your friends is slashed into half. Not only is it difficult to navigate through the crowd, the mobile network will probably be jammed up and even if you get through to him or her, you will probably find it difficult hearing what the person is saying.
Don’t worry about having enough money in your pocket. There’s no pressure of buying something at Chale Wote. Most of the vendors will appreciate it if you stop by their booth to know what they are about and pick up a flier or business card or experience something they have on offer, like tasting Moringa Connect’s moringa tea and picking up a MeQasa’s souvenir when I interacted with them and liked their social media pages in front of them. So far as you have money to get to James Town and back, you will do fine.
Don’t drive to Chale Wote. You will definitely do lots of walking. As I keep on propounding the benefits of going to Chale Wote early, I will only advise you to drive to the festival in the early hours, and even with that you’d have to park meters away from the stretch of road from the Usher Fort to the Lighthouse. Late afternoons, and you’d have to trek to the place from whichever part of Accra you are coming from. There will be no place for your car to move about or even park. I got to Accra with a trotro and walking to Tudu, I stopped several taxis to take me to the venue and I was surprised when they all declined, mentioning the traffic that had built up. One advised me to walk to the place, and when I checked Google map, it was 25 minutes straight-line walk as the crow flies, so I walked to the place. One advantage of walking is that I saw how parts of Accra Central are connected. In returning, I had to walk a similar distance to the National Theatre to get a trotro back home.
Chale Wote continues today.