A dance craze could be a mere fad that lasts as long as it takes to pronounce the word fad or some could last long enough to become standardised forms of traditional dance. Like Latin American and European dance craze creations, African dance craze pieces are characterised by their uniqueness, style and ability to capture the imagination of an entire generation of people. They tend to emerge from all corners of the continent, however, French speaking African countries have a slight edge in the sheer number and global dominance and reach of their dance creations. Below are 10 of the top African dance pieces to have gained global stature either recently or have emerged as 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, on the streets of Accra (and bizarrely on the streets of London) to churches and schools the Azonto dance threatened to eclipse the success of some of Ghana’s famous exports – its cocoa, gold and ofcourse it’s 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 ofcourse teenagers all unashamedly gyrating to Azonto inspired songs doing the Azonto. 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.
Oliver Twist (Nigeria)
Not much goes unoticed when it comes from Nigeria. With a population of over 150 million and immense growth in the internet it is actually possible to create a non-organic dance craze to get the world’s attention at will. This is what happened in 2011 when three of Nigeria’s music stars, Don Jazzy, Mo Hits crew and D’Banj announced a competition for fans to submit videos of themselves doing the Oliver Twist. With savvy promotion flair and a massive following on social media, especially on twitter, the combined efforts of the music stars ensured that Oliver Twist dance became a hit. Animated versions of the dance popped up fuelling the Oliver Twist dance craze popularity further.
Bobaraba (Côte d’Ivoire – Ivory Coast)
2008 saw Ivory coast’s Bobaraba climb up in the charts of dance craze pieces. The dance was inspired by Ivorian DJs Mix and Eloh’s hit song Bobaraba. Bobaraba means “big bottom” in the 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.” The DJs could not be more right. Any dance craze that revolves around booty shaking is bound to catch on, at least with male revellers. However, there was a negative side effect to Bobaraba as the BBC reports in this post - Ivory Coast’s Big-Bottom Craze - As good as Bobaraba was it will be remembered most for the pressure it put on Ivorian women to do this.
South African Ball Room Dancing (SA)
No! this was not started by well off white South Africans reminiscing about their forefathers’ traditional dancing styles. This dance craze was started by black South African kids in some of the country’s roughest townships and ghettos with one suspects more than a little encouragement from their parents. In 1993 the LATimes 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-behaving people because of it. You learn a lot of manners in dancing. And you have to maintain your discipline,” he added. “You can’t just go into the hall with your cap on. You’ve got to behave yourself, man.” Now if ever there was an African dance craze with a 100% socially responsible street credibility and a 100% blessing from parents, this was it!
Bird Flu Dance Craze (Côte d’Ivoire – Ivory Coast)
As you probably guessed this is a dance craze inspired by the deadly H5N1 strain of avian influenza. Facing adversity head on with an enviable capacity to use humour is not uncommon on the African continent and certainly not in the Côte d’Ivoire (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 infected Bird Flu chicken and suspected chickens culled to stop the spread of the flu. This was not a silly attempt at dark humour. As DJ Lewis, the creator stated 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)
Soukous is well known and has the distinctive charateristic of lasting long enough to establish itself as a popular dance. It did, however, start off 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”. The dance is also known as the African Rumba, an Afro-Cuban dance.
If you can shake and move your backside rythmically without moving your hips then you can do the Mapouka. The dance became popular in the late 1990s in the Ivory Coast, spreading to countries like Togo, Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Congo. In it’s hey days Mapouka was considered scandalous and banned from Ivorian TV for its overtly sexual overtones. 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 has become a cultural icon.
Hlokoloza Dance (South Africa)
Kwaito artist Arthur Mafokate, introduced ‘Hlokoloza’ to the world. In his words “Hlokoloza is a variation of various township dances put together with a bit of the ‘Hlokoloza’ swag.” Hlokoloza in it’s current form debuted in 2011 but has taken South Africa by storm with it’s patrons characteristically South African chant of ‘Ayo-yo!!’.
Yahooze Dance (Nigeria)
The yahoozee dance had a tough outdooring with criticisms that it glorified 419 scammers and their nefarious online “yahoo” activities. That did not stop Colin Powell, the former US Secretary of State, perhaps its most famous dancer from giving it a good go. Like every self respecting African dance craze an advocate is needed to popularise it. In the case of the Yahooze dance, Nigerian singer, Olu Maintain showed the world how to do it and do it right, with his feet firmly static and glued to the “dance” floor and with lots of rather simple hand movements while he sang his hit single “Yahooze“.
Shangaan Electro Dance (South Africa)
This dance is easily the fastest African dance you would have probably ever seen but, it has to be becouse the creator of the music genre that accompanies the dance wanted it that way. In an interview with CNN, Richard Hlungwani stated that “When I come (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!
Photo Courtesy: Glamour.com