Let’s Talk about Dance

by phil on October 11, 2011

dance in Mali

Dance never meant anything to me. I spent most of my life doing the drunken two step, with stiff hips and arrhythmic gyrations. In other words, looking like an idiot.

But a few steps of coupé-décalé rewired my brain and now dance is important to me.

Dance is important to all human beings. Like my former self, some might only realize it when they are intoxicated. Sober or not, a quick way to elevate your spirit is to plug your body into musical current.

I want to share a few of the popular dances you will find in clubs, on street corners and TV shows, and in living rooms across West Africa. Some of these are blowing up right now; others have been around for a few years.


The center of the hiplife universe right now is Tema, a suburb of Accra, Ghana. This is where Killbeatz, the young producer who has a hand in almost every hiplife banger, manufactures beats and synth lines. It’s where stars like Sarkodie and Nana Boroo live.

The Azonto dance has been around for 10 years or so. Ghanaian striker Asamoah Gyan gave it some new life recently (he does it every time he scores a goal), but it was a Sarkodie track, “You go kill me,” produced by Killbeatz, that really turned it into a craze.

In secondary schools across Ghana:

At the National Theatre in Accra:

In Ghanaian expat communities:

Azonto is all about hips and knees and minimal footwork. Throw in an added layer of gesturing and you have azonto. Try it.


I wrote about the first time I heard coupé-décalé. It made me dizzy. But Abidjan got in my bloodstream and coupé-décalé became a small obsession. Coupé-décalé is a music genre that was created by expat Ivorian djs in Paris during La Crise of the 2000’s. There are many associated dances.

This is one of the more popular videos around. The track comes from Za Za Twins, a pair of producer/djs in Lyon. I have no info about the dancers, but as you will see, they know what they’re doing.

Dj Arafat is very much at the center of the coupé-décalé universe. He is known both for his production skills and his dizzying rapid-fire vocals (see 4:08 of this track below). He has collaborated with a number of French, Ivorian and Beninois producers and rappers. This vid also has .. more dancing.

The music may not be well traveled, but the dances are. Maïmouna Coulibaly runs African dance classes in Paris, but she has recently taken to the road, most recently offering classes in San Francisco, and she is selling instructional DVDs as well. While a lot of African dance classes focus on the traditional, Maïmouna teaches contemporary, popular dance. Coupé-décalé is appropriately represented. Check out this (awesome) trailer for one of her DVDs:


Kuduro is an Angolan music genre that’s been around for over 20 years. Some would say you could credit its intensity to Angola’s many years of resource-driven civil war. Whatever the reason, Kuduro is dance music. It has recently been internationalized by Buraka Som Sistema, a Portuguese dj+mc collective. This is not my favorite track of theirs (I actually find MIA to be a bit irritating here), but it showcases some incredible kuduro dancing.

Kuduro is not West African, but the dance has traveled well and you will see it in clubs throughout the region. If you are interested in kuduro music, I strongly suggest checking out this album from Akwaaba Music.

Any dance music or dance(s) making your life right? I’m all ears and hands and legs and feet. Feel free to share tracks or videos in the comments.

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