Doing the Azonto
Some dance crazes are mere fads that barely last longer than it takes to pronounce their given name while others endure long enough to become cultural icons. However long they last they all have one thing in common: a unique style that delights and captures the imagination of enough people for it to acquire the status of a cultural meme. And though they emerge from all corners of the continent, the French speaking African countries have a slight edge in the sheer number and reach of their dance creations.
Below are 10 of the top African dance creations to have gained global stature either recently or, in the case of Soukous, in the last 40 years.
Ghana’s Azonto dance craze took the world by storm at the latter end of 2011. From night clubs and the streets of Accra to churches and schools, the Azonto dance threatened to eclipse the success of some of Ghana’s famous exports — its cocoa, gold and, of course, its exciting brand of football.
To prove it was truly inter-generational Azonto dance enthusiasts uploaded what seems like a billion YouTube videos showing the old, children and of course teenagers all unashamedly gyrating to Azonto-inspired songs.
The dance originated from some of the less affluent but culturally influential areas in Accra and achieved a global reach and significance that kept twitter buzzing and spawning a few viral Azonto dance videos.
The Azonto is still going strong, and was last seen on London’s Oxford Street
Hlokoloza Dance (South Africa)
Kwaito artist Arthur Mafokate, introduced ‘Hlokoloza’ to the world. In his words, “Hlokoloza is a variation on several township dances put together with a bit of the ‘Hlokoloza’ swag.”
Hlokoloza in its current form debuted in 2011 but has taken South Africa by storm with its patrons characteristically South African chant of ‘Ayo-yo!!’.
Oliver Twist (Nigeria)
Not much goes unnoticed when it comes from Nigeria. With a population of over 150 million and internet access growing in leaps and bounds, it is becoming easier to capture the world’s attention at will. Provided you have the imagination. Oh, and it helps if you already have a fairly substantial fan base. This is what happened in 2011 when Nigeria’s music stars D’Banj, Don Jazzy and the Mo'Hits crew announced a competition for fans to submit videos of themselves doing the Oliver Twist dance.
With savvy promotion flair and a massive following on social media, especially on twitter, the combined efforts of the music stars made the Oliver Twist dance a hit, even inspiring an animated version before the eventual winners My Backyard Crew were announced.
Bobaraba (Ivory Coast)
2008 saw Ivory Coast’s Bobaraba ascend the dance craze charts. The dance was inspired by Ivorian DJs Mix and Eloh’s hit song Bobaraba.
Bobaraba means “big bottom” in Ivory Coast’s Djoula language. In an interview with the BBC the pair stated that “We made Bobaraba as a tribute to women, because African women are defined by the shape of their bottoms.”
Well, we wouldn’t put it like that ourselves, but any dance craze that revolves around booty shaking is quite likely to catch on. A pity some unscrupulous individuals decided to start cashing in on the fun with "bottom enhancers" (see "Ivory Coast’s Big Bottom craze" – The BBC), and the desire for a bigger booty has led to at least one fatality.
South African Ball Room Dancing (SA)
No, ballroom dancing in South Africa’s townships was not initiated by well-off white South Africans reminiscing about their forefathers’ traditional dancing styles.
In 1993 the LA Times did a feature on this in which Jabu Vilakazi, chairman of South Africa’s dance academy, was quoted as saying “Dancing is changing many peoples’ lives. People have changed from being hooligans to well-behaved people because of it. You learn a lot of manners in dancing. And you have to maintain your discipline. You can’t just go into the hall with your cap on. You’ve got to behave yourself, man.”
Whatever your opinion about this particular dance craze you have to admit it’s not often you get one that manages to be socially-responsible, gets the blessing of parents and retains its street cred.
Bird Flu Dance (Ivory Coast)
As you probably guessed this particular craze was inspired by the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza. Reacting to adversity with humour is not uncommon, and you’ll find the same in Ivory Coast.
In 2006 a local DJ named Lewis created a wacky bird flu dance that caught the imagination of Ivorians and the international press alike. The dance had people shaking uncontrollably, clucking like birds and flapping their arms all in the name of mimicking a dying bird flu-infected chicken. This wasn’t just silly attempt at dark humour though. As DJ Lewis said to the BBC “I created the dance to bring happiness to the hearts of Africans and to chase away fear—the fear of eating chicken.”
Soukous/Lingala (Congo, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania)
Some know Soukous only as a genre of music but it started life as a dance craze in Francophone Congo in the 1930s and early 1940s. It is now just as popular in East Africa where it is said to have been brought over by Congolese political exiles.
The dance, alongside the music it spawned, can now be found in night clubs in London and Paris. The word Soukous came from the French word secousse – “shake”, and the dance is also known as the African Rumba, an Afro-Cuban dance.
Mapouka (Ivory Coast)
If you can shake and move your backside rhythmically without moving your hips then you can do the Mapouka.
The dance became popular in Ivory Coast in the late 1990s before spreading to countries like Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Congo.
In its heydays Mapouka was considered scandalous and banned from Ivorian TV for its overtly sexual overtones (it's also known as, "La danse du fessier" or "the dance of the behind"). The ban and fanatical anti-Mapouka commentary in media outlets ensured that Mapouka became a hit and a symbol of youth rebellion.
Like Soukous, Mapouka is now a well established dance and a cultural icon.
The Yahooze (Nigeria)
Critics of the Yahooze dance claimed it glorified 419 scammers and their online "yahooze" activities. That didn’t stop Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State and perhaps its most famous dancer to date, from giving it a good go.
Look into the history of any dance craze and you’ll usually find an advocate who was instrumental in popularising it, and in the case of the Yahooze dance it was Nigerian singer Olu Maintain. He showed the world how to do it and do it right, with his feet firmly “glued” to the dance floor and lots of rather simple hand movements while he sang his hit single Yahooze.
Shangaan Electro Dance (South Africa)
There’s a good chance the Shangaan Electro Dance is the fastest dance of African origin that you’ve ever seen. If so, that’s exactly what was intended, at least according to the creator of the music genre that accompanies the dance.
In an interview with CNN, Richard Hlungwani stated that “When I came [to Soweto] it was not moving, so I said to my guys, let’s make it 168 [beats per minute] and I said, no it’s still not fast enough. Now this is 175 … now 180!” He added “The world will go faster. It won’t go at the pace it’s going now, It will go a little bit faster, because Shangaan electro is going to do that.”
The videos of the Shangaan Electro dance will have you staring in sheer amazement at the energy, humour and vigour on display. Be warned you will be left breathless without moving an inch.
Edited and re-published with permission of MyWeku