A Welcome Letter to Accra
Accra as a city embodies the importance of surrender or in other words, ‘going with the flow’. The relatively easy-going nature of life here slows down time: that Uber you requested that says it is 4 minutes away may actually be 15 and the errands you urgently need to run will take longer than you accounted for in your diary but can always be completed tomorrow. When the frenzy becomes more chaotic than invigorating, I retreat to one of the many beaches along the coast- an image of my own vastness. I have found a home in this pace, and as much as it can frustrate me, it also serves as a reminder to give myself grace - to learn, to experiment, to try.
Where infrastructure lacks, the community makes up for it, proving that making art does not have to be a solitary affair.
This has been the essence of my creative journey since moving back to Ghana, and simultaneously captures the soul of Accra’s cultural landscape. Creativity in Accra is raw, unbridled, and constantly making it work. Take the underground music scene for example, powered by pioneers like the soulful Ria Boss and Super Jazz Club to the electronic afrobeats innovations of Gafacci and Zongo Abongo.
In line with community, subculture collectives like the NGO and streetwear brand, Free The Youth, can be situated in a creative lineage of transnational connection. In the convergence of the local and global, they have cited Tema Youth culture, BET, Ghanaian Afro-Trap, and American Hip-Hop as contemporary inspirations. These cultural flows can be put in conversation with ‘The Year of Return’ or we could go beyond that and touch on past ecosystems that their work has connections to.
It is 6th March 1971, exactly 14 years of Ghana’s independence and the day of the historic 15 hour Soul 2 Soul Concert. Over 100,000 people gathered to listen to about sixteen performances including Tina and Ike Turner, Wilson Pickett, and Roberta Flack alongside Ghanaian soul singer Charlotte Dada, local rock band ‘The Aliens’, and highlife musician Kwa Mensah. Highlighting the intertwinement of Black histories, African-American and Ghanaian jazz, R&B, and soul acts, come together at Independence Square to celebrate the creative energy of music across the diaspora.
Art and community have long been tools of resistance, reclamation and celebration. From the powerful World Festivals of Black Art initiated by Leopold Senghor, the poet and first president of Senegal to institution building like W.E.B Du Bois’ still existing cultural center in Accra, this was far from the only link up of its kind. From 1957 to the mid 70s there was an influx of collaboration between African-American, Caribbean and African activists and creatives meeting on the continent in the first African country to gain independence during the ongoing decolonial struggles. Maya Angelou, Louis Armstrong,and the Alvin Ailey Dance Company are a few of the names that held space in Ghana during this time of Pan-African connection building.
In the expansive city of Accra, multicultural exchange is both our past and the future.
History repeats itself in 2019, announced by the Ghanaian government as ‘The Year of Return’ - a ‘major landmark spiritual and birth-right journey’, calling to the global diaspora to return to Ghana to mark the 400 year anniversary of the beginning of the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade.
Not the usual time of egg nog and carols, Christmas season in the West African city of Accra has long been associated with aliveness; the vibrant nightlife until 6am, best concerts of the year, homecoming of Ghanaian people living all around the world and the hectic traffic to match. All things living grow and cities are no different.
The run up to this December in particular has been widely anticipated in Accra. Over the course of the last five years, the count of annual music festivals has increased from one to approximately eight with impressive inter-diaspora lineups such as Afronation, Afrochella and Detty Rave to name a few.
But what is risked when a theme with such sentimental weight and rich history, gains traction solely through this lens?
While the underlying premise leaves much tangibly unpacked, it also ignores these histories of creative ‘return’ across the diaspora and the power dynamics that accompanied it - which voices are valued in sharing these narratives and how does the local scene benefit sustainably from this increased interest? The Year of Return presents a chance to continue writing this story- mindfully.
The reality is that homegrown cultural producers are not waiting to be ‘discovered’ or mined for a trend, as much as international collaboration is not a new practice of this time. On the ground, there remains Ghanaian based creatives continuing to work with the independent spirit that has been pushing culture forward outside of a potentially flattening gaze. While enjoying all the entertainment that Year of Return has to offer, we can also take this opportunity to be self aware consumers of the energies that thrive in this city all year round, whether the spotlight is on or not.