The female form is a fount of boundless art. Precisely in this regard, Larbi and Hayford are art lovers too. Tall and dashing this Sunday in contrasting t-shirts, denims and sneakers, the pair of twentysomethings; one the complexion of dark chocolate, the other possessing a lighter skin tone are animated in their carnal hankering. They operate
Pals for many years, Larbi and Hayford share a steadfast conviction, one held by many others who troop to the venue this late in the night, that it is specifically this hour—when one is camouflaged within the sweaty moving crowds and lurid party music, and excited half-dressed dames with shapely derrieres are fair game—that one must attend Chale Wote—not the free afternoons that assist leisurely sightseeing. The iconic art showcases are all well and good, but everything that has happened over the week must lead to this: dunaa chasing by night is the heart of the matter—the ultimate mission.
“An alternative platform that brings art, music, dance and performance out of the galleries and onto the streets of James Town, Accra,” per organisers, Chale Wote, the Accra [dot] Alt founded street art festival has drawn hundreds of thousands for nearly ten years. Hosting over 200 Ghana-based and international artists, it is held around the same period as the annual Homowo festival celebrated by the people of Ga-Mashie and is permanently overbooked. This year, it comes off over ten days, climaxing on the weekend of August 24 and 25.
Among fixtures over the years are design labs, colossal monuments fashioned from recycled corrugated roofing sheets, graffiti murals notably by the globally renowned Moh Awudu (mainly in the old Kingsway building that also functions as a makeshift discotheque by night), street boxing by pubescent boys perpetuating Jamestown’s legacy as the nation’s boxing hub, street painting, photo exhibitions, interactive installations, fashion, food and beverage fairs, live street performances, extreme sports stunts, an African Cinema pavilion, a music block party, and pure nocturnal ecstasy.
“Our vision is to cultivate a wider audience for the arts in West Africa by breaking creative boundaries and using art as a viable form to rejuvenate public spaces. The CHALE WOTE Street Art Festival challenges both artists and community-based audiences to connect through art,” organisers further state.
Running under the theme “pidgin
At Chale Wote, there’s the constant image of people screaming into phones, probing for exact coordinates of companions (“I’m by a big boat at Lighthouse,” “Come to the blue and yellow canopy outside the Mantse Agbonaa Park, to the kenkey vendor under it,” “Did you say Ussher Fort or Bible House?”); enraptured white tourists perpetually holding their cameras up, documenting everything; the likely sighting of celebrities. There’s the question of how alcoholic products on display seem to outnumber actual art pieces, as well as the internal debate of what passes for art, and what is merely an assault to the eyes: a procession of traditional rulers in the area, bare-chested brawny men doing push-ups in the middle of the street, a colourful enactment of the splendour of Medieval Mali emperor, Mansa Musa by a cast of performers led by popular poet and playwright Chief Moomen, a girl holding a dog by the leash, hyper-realistic makeup portraying someone as battered and bruised, or a drunken middle-aged man absorbed in loud incoherent soliloquy as he totters along.
There’s the troubling irony relating to paucity in the midst of opulence; of this being an art Mecca, a vital economy, and yet not sufficiently benefiting inhabitants of Jamestown, as is witnessed in images of naked boys bathing in impoverished tenements a few yards away, or other poorly-dressed pre-teens asking for alms from awe-struck expatriates.
Hayford, the dark-skinned of the two dunaa hunters, with urban swagger in his step also wears minimal face paint around his left eye. He’s an aspiring musician but is already nestled in the cockiness that attends pop celebrity. On his part, Larbi’s confidence is sourced from his many years as a casanova, augmented by his infectious smile, gentle demeanour, and occupation as photographer, which he notes is key currency in today’s social media-loving dispensation. Among his signature moves is to take a photo of a woman he has spotted, often on her blind side. Armed with this, he approaches said woman, shows her the photo, and initiates a conversation that leads to the exchange of numbers. On a freshly-acquired iPhone, his trophies are stored “Thelma Chale Wote,” “Abena Chale Wote,” “Akua Chale Wote,” “Fafa Chale Wote” and suchlike. It is not the only formula. Being a seasoned ladies’ man means that he has a plethora in his backpack.” “This thing, we do saaa,” he grins, “unless we say we no go do, but if we say we go chop you, we go…”
Something—or rather—someone catches his eye before he can finish his statement. It is a coy-looking damsel by a food stand. Larbi inches closer. She sees him and smiles—perhaps nervously, for she spills from the bottle of water in her hand on his sneakers. It’s not a big deal and can be forgiven without dispute, but it is Larbi’s opening. He assures her via an impish smile that he’ll let it go—but on the condition that she surrenders her phone number. He also compliments her “perfect” face—something that makes him “want to plant a kiss on [her] lips this very instant.” The remark works. It broadens her smile, and seals the deal, for she obliges to his request.
“The real freaks are the innocent-looking ones,” he announces.
Meanwhile, Hayford has his arm around the shoulder of a catch without invitation. Before the short-haired plump can react, he activates a blush on her cheeks with wooing language, swiftly following it with an invitation to “hang out sometime.”
Minutes later, near a Total filling station, Larbi and Hayford besiege a party of three, beaming in youthful elegance. They could hardly be more than twenty-three each and are in full party swing, with body-hugging apparel and dance mode. Without previously rehearsed notes but with telepathy fostered over many years of collaboration, they work this threesome without effort, for it is not long before phones are revealed and thumbs get to storing new names: “Edith Chale Wote,” “Precious Chale Wote,” “Bernice Chale Wote.”
‘Ma eye dey the fair one inside,” remarks Larbi to Hayford about one of the girls when they depart from them and cross over to the DVLA car park, where local radio station Citi FM is broadcasting proceedings live. Wulomei, the famed traditional Ga band known for ageless staples like “Walatu Walasa,” “Meridian,” “Kaafo,” and “Soyama” is the main act. The live band session they are leading is electrifying, and patrons—some of whom are feasting on kenkey and pork, others packed on the dance floor rubbing against one another’s bodies—are having the time of their lives, cheering to the band’s rendering of numbers by Shatta Wale, highlife singer Bless, or Nigeria’s Simi as loudly as they did for Wulomei anthems.
“Ma eye dey the fair one inside,” repeats Larbi to his companion, “but if you dey like, I fit
It is in the nature of one to be extra guarded when surrounded by a swarm of strangers. It is evidenced by how tightly Chale Wote patrons clinch to their pouches and pockets, for instance. In how Larbi and Hayford are able to correspond using their eyes in these dully-lit streets, to induce split-second familiarity with nervous pilgrims and initiate conversations of love and lust are a testament to
The trick to enjoying Chale Wote — one would wager — is to master the act of roving. Also, resisting the temptation to wear “Chale Wote,” the rubber slippers after which the festival is named,
Tonight has been a slow night. Last year, cumulatively, they harvested double digits. Tired, Larbi is done for the