Accra, Ghana: The Emerging Hotspot for London Creatives
Before my trip to Accra this summer, I’d known of the city’s reputation as Africa’s creative polestar. I’d watched friends and colleagues from the fashion, art, and music worlds flock to the Ghanaian capital every Christmas, spending their last weeks of the year at music festivals and art exhibitions, partying at beach clubs until sunrise, sampling fresh local cuisine, and exploring the multifacets of Ghanaian culture over a period known as ‘Detty December’.
In the past five years or so, Detty December in Accra has not only been a guaranteed good time for Africans and Black diaspora from around the globe; for many, it has been a means to connect with their roots in a way that’s as much entertaining as it is life-changing.
The annual trips were spearheaded by the launch of Ghana’s 2019 ‘Year of Return’ campaign — a government-backed initiative encouraging the diaspora to visit Ghana and make Accra a key destination for Black travellers, through a slew of year-long activities and programming, commemorating the 400-year anniversary of the trans-atlantic slave trade. Back then, Ghana, which is located on the Atlantic coast of West Africa, was a key transit point for transporting enslaved Africans to the Western world.
Today, Accra has transformed into a destination that brings together millions of Africans, both from across the continent and internationally, through a shared love of music, culture, and creativity. In the past year alone, leaders in luxury fashion, film, music, and art have looked to Accra as a source of inspiration. Marni x No Vacancy Inn shot their most recent fashion campaign in the city, while Dutch streetwear brand Daily Paper hosted their annual pop-up in December (they also built Accra’s first ever skate-park in collaboration with the late Virgil Abloh and Off-White in 2021), alongside local brand and collective Free The Youth. In January, Chance The Rapper and Vic Mensa launched their inaugural music festival Black Star Line, bringing together 50,000 people, and putting global stars like Erykah Badu on stage in West Africa for the first time. Even Hollywood has turned its attention to the city, with the makers of 2017 comedy Girls Trip, starring Jada Pinkett Smith, Tiffany Haddish, Regina Hall and Queen Latifah, confirming that parts of the sequel will be filmed in Accra.
The growth of Afrobeats as a dominant genre in mainstream music has also been instrumental to the worldwide popularisation of West African culture over the years. Then there is Accra’s most recent acclaim as “one of the world’s great art destinations” according to publications like The Art Newspaper and Frieze. This creative boom has driven tourism to the country like never before, with airlines like British Airways responding to the growing demand for travel to the region by introducing three new daily flights from London Gatwick to Accra from October 29 (an addition to their frequent services from Heathrow).
The beauty of Ghana is that it has its own culture and an authenticity that you just can’t buy or find anywhere else
“The beauty of Ghana is that it has its own culture and an authenticity that you just can’t buy or find anywhere else. It doesn’t try to mimic the Western world and that’s why people can’t get enough of it,” says Sheniece Charway, artist relations manager at YouTube. As a British-Ghanaian from London, Charway spent her childhood visiting family in Accra, but hadn’t been since she was 13, before taking a trip with friends in 2019. “It was a completely different experience,” she says. “All of a sudden, there were all of these restaurants, the nightlife was unlike anything else I’d experienced, and it was just amazing to see so many young people from around the world who were there on their own accord, working and connecting with each other.”
In 2021 and 2022, Charway worked on an initiative under YouTube’s Black Voices Fund, where she helped organise annual events in Accra aimed at supporting and highlighting the next generation of creatives in Ghana and across Africa. They partnered with the founders of AfroFuture, an annual music, fashion, and culture festival held in Accra which is credited for the abundance of tourism the city has experienced since it launched in 2017. “Ghanaians have always been involved in creative arts. The difference is that now we have the means to distribute it,” says Abdul Karim Abdullah, co-founder of AfroFuture. “We have people like Amoako Boafo, who is a Ghanaian artist doing collaborations with Dior, Serge Attukwei Clottey who sells million dollar art pieces, Edward Enninful who made history as the editor-in-chief of British Vogue — these are all examples of famous people but there are so many more where they came from. The local talent is huge and we created AfroFuture so that we could all connect, work together, and benefit from each other’s greatness.”
Much like AfroFuture, establishments in the city like the Dikan Center, Africa’s largest photography library, and Noldor Residency, which hosts artists from around the world and helps them hone their artistic crafts before showcasing it on local and global platforms, have been pivotal in breaking barriers for African talent in the art space. “The diaspora has and continues to play a significant role in how African Contemporary Art is experienced and consumed at a cultural level,” says founder Joseph Awuah-Darko. “Subsequently, initiatives such as the ‘Year Of Return’ act to consolidate the bridge between local cultural institutions and the community of diasporas from America and Europe who want to contribute meaningfully. It is also important to keep in perspective that the art ecology in Ghana is still fairly nascent in certain aspects, and so increasing the potential for patronage this way can only be a positive thing.”
I spent an afternoon at Noldor Residency, where I met artists from Jamaica, Ethiopia, and London, who had all moved to Accra earlier in the year as part of the Noldor Visiting Fellowship programme. For them, the city is full of opportunity. Later, I bumped into American filmmaker Nikki Abban, who was in Accra developing an independent documentary inspired by the way of life in Ghana. It was yet another reminder that social media and the internet has made the connection between locals and diaspora stronger than ever, creating space for collaborations and a free-flow of knowledge, experiences, and cultures.
It has been amazing to see so many people coming to Ghana and interacting with our creative scene
“It has been amazing to see so many people coming to Ghana and interacting with our creative scene here,” says 23-year-old local photographer Jude Lartey. He told me that a recent campaign he directed for Converse stemmed from a connection he’d made with London-based creative director TJ Sawyer, after the two met during Detty December last year. “We decided to create something together with some Converse shoes that we had, just as a passion project. When he went back to London, he shared it with Converse and they were into it, so they shipped over some samples and had us create a real campaign for them.”
Lartey, who has worked with brands like Levi’s and had his work featured in British Vogue — all through promoting his photography on Instagram and forming connections with locals and creative tourists — just shot the cover for a debut artbook by Manju Journal — a global culture platform built around a digital community of African creatives. The book is titled Voices: Ghana’s Artists In Their Own Wordsand features 80 Ghanian creatives, including photographers, writers, and curators like Campbell Addy, James Barnor, Osei Bonsu, Zohra Opoku, and Afia Prempeh, sharpening the spotlight on Ghana’s born, bred, and trained talent.
Ultimately, the beauty of Accra is that while culture thrives here, human connections do, too — and therein lies its potential for longevity. “We’re only at the beginning of becoming a vital powerhouse for the global creative scene,” says Jonathan Coffie, co-founder of Free The Youth. For most young Africans, the vision is firmly on forging closer ties to one another. “We want to encourage travel across the continent,” adds Abdullah. “It’s about unity and taking control of our own narrative, and to do that you need to go and see things with your own eyes.”