Last weekend in Brooklyn and in Accra, students and activists, fashion designers and artists, musicians and writers gathered to celebrate black creativity.
In Brooklyn, Afropunk, a self-described “platform for the other Black experience,” is a rebellion against labels and stereotypes; it is an avant-garde homage to the complexities of the people of Africa and its diaspora. The rich diversity of people at Afropunk is accurately captured by the widely circulating images of “Afropunk street style” featuring elegant box braid crowns, immaculately picked afros, and a kaleidoscope of perfectly applied lipstick. While artists like SZA, Lion Babe, and Grace Jones took the stage, festival attendees witnessed live creation of art, explored the SpinThrift Market, and spoke their truth on Activism Row.
Chale Wote, a multi-day festival in Accra’s Jamestown, amplifies the voice of African creativities, portraying an alternative pan-African cultural aesthetic. The name of the festival, Chale Wote, means “Man, let’s go!” in the Ga language. According to festival organizers, Accra [dot] Alt, “the Ga people are the custodians of Accra.” During the colonial era, art was the preserve of the elite; however, Chale Wote aims to democratize the consumption and production of art in a neglected part of the city. No less effusive when it comes to thinking outside of the box, Accra’s residents took the streets in their finest. #AnkaraAllDay appeared to be the motto with women and men alike re-imagining traditional fabrics in new styles. Like Afropunk, Jamestown’s High Street became an atelier as artists painted murals in front of curious crowds. At this year’s festival, street performances dominated as the primary form of artistic expression. Popular Accra house DJ Steloolive continued his reign as the city’s King of Fashion as he strolled the street in his signature cap—a grand master of the “aesthetic of the cool.”
Unlike Afropunk, a two-day festival, which primarily takes place in Fort Greene, Chale Wote took over Accra. Expanding beyond the two-day street art festival, festival organizers also engaged Accra’s community of artists and activists, thought-leaders and youth by putting together film screenings and panels.
As I looked at pictures of friends at Brooklyn’s Afropunk and compared them to my own experiences at Chale Wote, I was struck by how black people across the world are firmly rejecting limiting narratives. Too long has the black experience been circumscribed by a media that does not care to showcase laughter alongside pain, success alongside hardship. The black creatives at the forefront of festivals like Afropunk and Chale Wote are re-affirming the rich diversity that exists in the wide umbrella of “black culture” and utilizing these platforms to empower their vision of the world. This world is one in which black people can embrace their freedom of expression, creativity, and sexuality without fear. In times in which we feel compelled to agitate that black lives matter or rail against the Africa the media doesn’t show us, such safe spaces are essential to the preservation of black life, black liberty, and black people’s pursuit of happiness.