ABOVE: Vic Mensa and Chance the Rapper
When Chance the Rapper visited West Africa in 2022, he initially thought his trip with fellow Chicago hip-hop artist Vic Mensa would be just another vacation getaway.
Instead, the Grammy winner connected with Mensa’s father’s family in Ghana and other natives from the Motherland on a deeper level. He saw Ghana’s beautiful ocean coastline and waterfalls, engulfed himself in the musical culture and art scene and learned more about the country’s rich history of being the first sub-Saharan African country to free itself from colonialism.
After a couple more trips to Ghana, Chance decided to create a free concert series and visual arts show so others could experience the country’s vibrant culture just like he did. During the summer, Chance and Mensa brought eight students from Chicago to Ghana to learn more about Africa.
“I felt so free in Ghana… and I want others to feel the same way,” said Chance, who along with Mensa will host the inaugural Black Star Line festival in Accra, Ghana, in 2023. The weeklong festival will feature events, panel discussions and a free concert on January 6 with performances by Chance, Mensa, Erykah Badu, T-Pain, Jeremih, Sarkodie, Tobe Nwigwe, Asakaa Boys and M.anifest.
The event will be held in Accra’s Black Star Square, a monument to the political freedom that was won by Ghanaians in 1957. The festival’s title was inspired by civil rights leader Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line, which was founded in 1919 and operated by Black people who helped link global shipping and tourism opportunities between America, the Caribbean and Africa.
Garvey inspired Chance’s music video “YAH Know,” featuring King Promise, and his upcoming album “Star Line Gallery,” which is expected for release this year. He’s already released a few other new music videos — such as “Child of God,” “A Bar About a Bar” and “The Highs & Lows” with Joey Bada$$ — in which he calls “album art” to highlight popular artists in Africa.
Chance said Naila Opiangah’s art piece for “Child of God” will be on display at the festival. He said his new “songs are candid realities of Black life.”
“Artists have amazing graphics and album covers and single artworks that are made by great artists every day that’s released,” he said. “But the only time you get to see it is on this little inch-by-one inch depiction of it. These pieces are painted by world class artists. The ability to go see those pieces and interact with them in real life kind of adds to people’s understanding of the music.”
Through his festival, Chance says he wants to bridge the gap between Black people abroad and Africa.
“I think that specifically the story of the founder’s independence is something that all black people should know,” he said. “There are no free sub-Saharan African countries until 1957. I think they should know about the revolutionary leaders on the continent and abroad. I think that if we had this connectedness and this interaction, people will actually have a chance to see this.”
Initially, it was tough gaining commitments from big-name music artists to travel and perform in West Africa. With few sponsors, much of the expenses to fund the free concert were out-of-pocket.
But Chance’s team found a way to make the trip more affordable for travelers through a partnership with United Airlines, which is offering discount fares to Ghana for a year.
It’s taken a lot of work to organize the event in such a short time, but Chance believes this festival could live on successfully for the next 50 years. In the future, he wants to host the festival in other countries, such as Jamaica and Haiti.
But for now, Chance’s focus has been on attracting more people to Ghana, a place he can envision his family living after his daughters head to college.
“I wish I could live there right now,” said the rapper, who has lived in Chicago his whole life. “I want people to see the convergence and similarities in all of these Black lives.”