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Joe Osae beside the iconic photo
Joe Osae beside the iconic photo

The iconic image that inspired the Akwaaba Festival

There’s an extra bounce in the step of Joe Osae, CEO of Ceejay Multimedia, as he pulls a variety of components together for the take-off of the third edition of his Akwaaba Festival on March 6 at the National Theatre.


The three-day festival slated for the National Theatre from March 6 to March 8, will embrace different  Ghanaian cultural initiatives in areas such as visual arts, crafts, literature, fashion, pageants and music.

What Joe Osae knows for sure is that  there might not be any festival called Akwaaba if he had not in 1999, conceived of and gone ahead to produce an image of a smiling, traditionally-clad young Ghanaian woman holding a pot and a calabash.

The Germany-trained printer had then left his position at the Ghana Publishing Corporation and was exploring ways to inject some innovation into his work as he struck out on his own.  

It took a bit of a search for an appropriate model to enable him actualise his concept and the lot eventually fell on Angelina Akua Nana Oduro.Joe Osae got the eventual product framed and 
labeled it ‘Akwaaba ---Welcome.’
Symbol of hospitality

With time, it became a symbol of Ghanaian hospitality nearly everywhere.  It was spotted displayed in many of the nation’s  Embassies and High Commissions abroad.  An exciting part of the  story of the ‘Akwaaba—Welcome’ image is that many Ghanaians abroad do not hesitate to  present it as a representation of the warm-heartedness of their people, to foreign nationals.

Though Osae has recently changed the image of the model in the work from that  of Angelina Oduro to a new model called Dorcas Kwawu, the pull of an all  smiles, beaded Ghanaian  woman decked in Kente,  still holds sway in many places.

A delightful photo of Jerry Adinkra, a prominent member of the Ghanaian community in New York  presenting a copy of the image to New York Mayor, Eric Adams, got a big splash in the American media and beyond.

At the moment in Ghana, the ‘Akwaaba –Welcome’ image is boldly displayed at the frontage of the National Theatre and at the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park.

“Out there in many places, including the US, the  ‘Akwaaba—Welcome’ portrait has become the go-to item used for most presentations made on behalf of Ghana. I find it pleasing and I’m proud of myself to see my creative work being used so widely,” says the Ceejay Multimedia boss.
Transition to festival

Joe Osae is also proud of himself for transitioning the idea of Ghanaian warmth from an iconic photograph to a vibrant festival that has gradually become an important ingredient in the creation of a cultural output representative of our entire country.

So the third Akwaaba Festival, organised by  Ceejay Multimedia in partnership with  the Musicians Union of Ghana (MUSIGA) and supported by the Ghana Tourism Authority, gets going from March 6 with exhibitions and sale of Ghanaian art and craft, traditional textiles and fashion accessories, local beverages, a food bazaar and more.

By courtesy of MUSIGA, there will live music performances on March 6 and March 7. That’s something union’s President, Besssa Simons, is excited about and wants everyone to come and have fun and experience some great  Ghanaian culture while enjoying some first-rate music from MUSIGA members.

“Music offers the capable wings on which events of all sorts fly. MUSIGA is happy Akwaaba Festival recognises that fact. Our selected members for the bash are rehearsing hard. It is a big forum for them to show everyone what they can do. They promise to make everyone happy at the festival,” Bessa Simons pointed out.
Festival climax

The festival gets to a climax in the main auditorium of the National Theatre on March 8. Dubbed Akwaaba Night, it will be a thrilling mix of music, fashion and dance with acts such as the Ghana Dance Ensemble and guitarist Akablay and his Abiza Band on stage.

The Akwaaba Night will also incorporate an awards programme for outstanding personalities and outfits in the cultural space. 

Many in the audience will definitely look out for the launch of the Miss Akwaaba 2024 pageant , a 13-week tourism and cultural television reality show.

“We have invited people from all walks of life to the opening ceremony. We have reached out to the diplomatic community, government officials, private entrepreneurs, young people and more to come witness how we get going with this cultural exposition very close to our hearts,” Joe Osae pointed out.

Still passionate about the iconic image that gave him the impetus to start the Akwaaba Festival, Joe Osae says he will be coming out with a new face for the iconic Akwaaba frame periodically to give other models the opportunity to also perform national ambassadorial roles if called upon.

For now, what he and his staff at Ceejay Multimedia are firmly focused on is to pull off a successful third edition of the festival inspired by an iconic image of Ghanaian hospitality.

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