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.

Azonto

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.

Coupé-Décalé

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

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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{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeremy Branham October 11, 2011 at 1:59 pm

Dance is such an important aspect of life in African culture. I have a little rhythm but let’s face it – we white people are not blessed with dance skills like our brethren in Africa! :)

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phil October 12, 2011 at 12:48 pm

I think everyone is blessed with dance skills. It’s just a matter of prioritizing and developing them. If you look at children whether they are African, American, European, whatever, if you put on some tunes, they will start dancing. You’re right in a sense though – in many places in Africa, dance is a very important layer of culture.

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Stephanie - The Travel Chica October 12, 2011 at 7:19 am

I have really grown to appreciate how people in other country’s just let themselves go and dance (and they are good at it). I have never been much of a dancer, but it inspired me to learn salsa during my travels in Latin America. I decided to leave tango to the experts.

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phil October 12, 2011 at 12:55 pm

Latin America is another great place for dance. I would love to learn Salsa. I was dating a Colombian girl for a while and she gave me the introduction, but I really didn’t put in a lot of effort, such a wasted opportunity. You should totally learn Tango!

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Andi of My Beautiful Adventures October 12, 2011 at 10:46 am

AWESOME post, that little kid is SO cute!!!

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phil October 12, 2011 at 1:03 pm

Glad you enjoyed, Andi :)

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Roy | The Riding Dutchman October 12, 2011 at 10:48 am

Really cool! Music says so much about cultures :D

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phil October 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Yes, it definitely does. Thanks for stopping by, Roy.

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Kyle October 12, 2011 at 10:52 am

Fun to watch, but I will officially try none of these because I think I would just make a fool of myself :)

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phil October 12, 2011 at 1:05 pm

Nonsense. Just start your practice when no one is watching ;)

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Katrina October 12, 2011 at 1:23 pm

Now I’m kind of wondering of Technoviking was trying Coupé-décalé and failing. ;)

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phil October 12, 2011 at 1:51 pm

Technoviking? What’s that?

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Raymond @ Man On The Lam October 12, 2011 at 8:54 pm

The only dances I have done have been drunken attempts at nightclubs. These folks look a lot more into it!

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phil October 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

They are definitely really into it. When I am at clubs, the most serious dancers won’t even take alcohol. Dance is the priority.

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Dalene October 13, 2011 at 6:34 am

I can say with great confidence that I would stand no chance trying to perform any of those dances. But I would sure have fun trying (with enough drinks in me)…that is until I pulled something, which would happen, guaranteed.

That little kid dancing was amazing!

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phil October 13, 2011 at 11:10 am

hehe, Azonto is not too strenuous. Coupe-decale and kuduro are the more gymnastic dances ;) Just find the GHanaian expat community in NL and you’ll be good to go!

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jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World October 13, 2011 at 7:32 am

I love to dance: swing, salsa, waltz, etc – those African dances seem sooo different than any of the dances I know though, almost like breakdancing (coupe-decale and kuduro seems intense). and a lot more – “into” the music with their whole body. Very, very cool to wach.

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phil October 13, 2011 at 11:13 am

yeah, coupe decale and kuduro are very intense. Azonto, less so. All dances have their own unique elements. We say it would be hard to learn these, but if you told an Ivorian to learn swing it would probably be the same reaction for them :)

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Christy @ Ordinary Traveler October 13, 2011 at 5:01 pm

I definitely don’t dance enough. Maybe that’s because I don’t go to clubs or bars very often anymore. I look forward to weddings though because I know it will mean I can dance and Scott will be drunk enough to dance with me! :)

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phil October 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm

There’s not enough opportunities to dance, right? I just do it whenever now. I will take a 15 minute break and kick my chair out of the room :)

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Ekua October 15, 2011 at 6:31 pm

I’m glad you came around and now appreciate dance… I’m not sure if I could be friends with you otherwise :P Just kidding! These dances are great, thanks for sharing. I wasn’t aware of the Azonto dance. I usually hear about the new songs and dance crazes at Ghanaian functions here in the Bay Area, but at the last one I went to in August, I didn’t see any Azonto!

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phil October 15, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Maybe it hasn’t made it to the bay yet ;) Actually, all I know is that it’s big in NY. I don’t know where the next biggest Ghanaian expat community is in the states going east to west. Dc maybe? Are there a lot of Ghanaians in the bay area?

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Africa Wanderer November 11, 2011 at 4:54 am

I’ve never cared much for dancing myself, not do I particularly enjoy watching other people dance, but wow, this Azonto dance is pretty awesome! I can’t stop looking. Too bad my rusty knees could never do something like this.

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Priyank December 9, 2011 at 6:22 am

Hi Phil,
This is a nice collection of videos! I was recently reading a paper that studied dancing habits of people of Indian origin in India, east Africa and the Caribbean. It is so interesting to see the differences and after I saw these videos, the connection was instant!

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rbb85 July 25, 2012 at 8:59 am

For me it’s Coupé Decalé all the way. I wish there was a book about the historical roots of all three styles. Coupé Decalé almost sound related to each other like jazz and salsa also are.

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