Perhaps in adherence to the maxim that the truest expression of a people is in its dance, nay music, Nigerian youths continue to reinvent different dance styles that become popular in the fast-evolving afro hip hop circuit while traditional dance forms have not completely lost their allure. Lanre Alfred writes
Really, there is nothing untoward about a gracefully greying, 72-year-old man dancing with an artiste young enough to be his last son. But eyebrows are sure to be raised when the man in question is Colin Powell, former Secretary of State, which as at 2001 was the highest rank ever held by an African American in the United States government. A four-star general in the US Army before his retirement, the Harlem, New York native was a National Security Advisor under former President Ronald Reagan and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under President George H.W. Bush as well as a former Secretary of State under George W. Bush. Thus, for a man with such solid pedigree to be seen dancing like a hip teenager at a world-class event would raise many a brow. And it sure did.
It was at a concert held in November 2008 in London that Powell, prompted by Olu Maintain, Nigerian hip hop singer, bounded on stage to dance to Yahoozee, a popular afro hip hop dance style made even more popular by the latter’s song about it. For minutes, Powell swayed and shuffled excitedly as he diligently took the dance lessons. Predictably, the Royal Albert Hall where the event held erupted in uproar and a deluge of applause. Though America’s premier soldier cum statesman might not have got the nuances of the “alien” dance right, what no one could deny was that he helped initiate the world to the Yahooze dance phenomenon.
Between 2007 and 2008, the Yahooze dance was the in-thing among the hip crowd in Nigeria. So popular was it that not a few artistes waxed songs about it. Though its origin is mired in conjectures, the name, no doubt, was derived from the internet scam popularly called Yahoo Yahoo in local parlance. The reasoning then was that any perpetrator who happened on money needed not dance so much at the club or anywhere else, all he is required to do is put one leg forward, throw his hands back and forth in a rhythmic cadence while the head pans hither and thither. For effects, you could raise your arms heavenward in a prayer format, with fingers locked together like a gun and start rolling it around both ears. This could be done energetically or in a relaxed form, depending on who is involved. From adults to toddlers, men and women, Yahooze gained widespread acceptance, even among indigenous musicians. Remi Aluko, a grassroots Fuji musician got relative mention in mainstream music circles in late 2007 when his video on Yahooze hit national television. According to him, “I had to do that song and the video to show that I have come of age in my career and to show that I know what is in tune in contemporary music trends.”
Alanta was gradually taking over dance floors and music videos. And like its predecessor, many songs are already being waxed to herald it. Artquake, the 90s afro hip hop group, leads the pack here. The group’s Alanta video is already snaked its way to the top of many musical charts in the country, not because of the video’s cinematic appeal but more because of the choreography of the dance. Adex, one half of the Artquake describes Alanta thus, “I think it derives from Alantakun, the Yoruba word for spider. So, the dance itself involves the dancer to curve his hands with the palms facing the chest while twiddling the fingers and raising your leg one after the other.” Because it takes an athlete to dance but an artist to be a dancer, the very good dancers have a way of contorting their bodies into a flexible contraption while heaving their legs in the manner of a tarantula.
Dance, as noted by a philosopher, is the language of the soul, and Nigerian youths seem to be in a hurry to give vent to that expression by their seasonal invention of new dance styles that conform to the evolving indigenous hip hop culture. But the situation had not always been this dynamic. Bursting on to the music scene at a time when the pop culture foundation had not even been laid, Daddy Showkey, ghetto superstar, had shown the world that there was so much more to Nigeria than football. He stamped his emergence into people’s consciousness with Galala, a dance form that is uniquely his, and perhaps emblematic of where he emerged from, Ajegunle, Lagos, nay Nigeria’s infamous ghetto. There are many variants to it but the easiest to dance involves being bent double while thrusting one leg after the other sequentially. Galala was so popular that it became Showkey’s insignia wherever his musical odyssey took him. And it took him very far before his present state of near-oblivion.
In the late 90s through the early 2000s, when the fortunes of the Nigerian music industry had practically nosedived and indigenous music had virtually lost its lustre among youths, the music of Awilo Longomba and Koffi Olomide, popular East African Makossa acts, was like a breath of fresh air. The duo’s music came with a colourful dance to be known as Makossa which involves a lot of waist wriggling and flexibility. In spite of its seeming complexity, Makossa was the choice of dance from Nigeria, Ghana to Congo, Zaire and Cameroon where it actually derived from. It also had a spin-off in Mapouka, which however did not permeate the hip crowd.
By the turn of the millennium, the fortunes of the music industry began to change. A lot of young men and women who hitherto had no direction in life rediscovered their innate talents and began to pursue their dreams. That season spewed forth a lot of music stars like Marvellous Benjy, Cashman Davies and Daddy Fresh among others from the ghetto of Ajegunle. They held the industry by its jugular. They also held Nigerians captive with a new dance form called Konto, and later, Suo. Konto was limited to Ajegunle and its environs, hence it did not have mainstream appeal. But Suo did. To drive home the fact that it had come to stay, Benjy, a dancehall act’s most popular song to date remains his song with the hook; Galala no dey do dem again, Konto no dey do dem again o, Makossa no dey do dem again, Suo na the new dance wey dey reign which means Galala is no longer enough, neither is Konto or Makossa, Suo is the reigning dance. In an earlier interview, Benjy said for one to dance Suo, he must have a relative knowledge of Galala. Instructively, Suo requires its dancer to be postured like a bicycle rider, intermittently crouching low with hands arced like one ready to shoot an arrow or like one bearing a long riffle. Not forgetting that the legs must be in rhythm as the hands continue its circus. Before long too, Suo gave way to the Yahooze and now, Alanta era.
Yet, in the midst of the pervasive dominance of the pop culture, traditional Nigerian dance styles have not lost their lustre. Go to Benue State and behold the beauty of the Swange, the Tiv tribe’s urban recreational dance where men and women dance together in a circular motion. It involves a lot of rhythmic and undulating movements especially around the waist region. Swange became even more popular with the emergence of Zulezoo, a musical group, which popular debut Kerewa, was later banned by the Nigerian Broadcasting Corporation, NBC, for its alleged explicit content. Before the ban, Zulezoo had succeeded in registering Swange among topical dance forms likely to break ethnic and religious barriers. Unfortunately, it did not but the Performing Troupe of Benue State Arts Council has kept the glow of the dance aflame in the international circuit. Equally, dances like the Abang, native to the Efik in Cross River State, the Bata, a Yoruba dance form and the Fisherman dance among the Izon people of Bayelsa State continue to retain its traditional allure while making appreciable inroads into international events and festivals.
There is also Azonto, which originated from the port town of Tema, and other parts of Bukom and Chorkor in downtown Accra, Ghana. From its humble beginnings as a relaxing dance of the province’s ragtag and bobtail, Azonto has crossed borders; gradually becoming a global phenomenon as many inductees and experts, young and old, Africans and Caucasians alike, post videos of themselves dancing it unabashedly on YouTube. The world was first introduced to Azonto at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa by Ghanaian star player, Asamoah Gyan, whose goals are celebrated with Azonto. Gradually, Nigerians, who are known to be creative at anything, have latched on to it. And now, Azonto is gaining widespread acceptance in Nigeria, pushing into second place other indigenous dances. Seductive and comical, depending on the dancer, Azonto incorporates complex but co-ordinated body movement and non-verbal communication depicting ironing, washing, boxing and money spraying among others, in a rhythmic fashion. Just like most African dances, knee bending and hip movements are rudiments to dancing it. Generally, the dance reflects the creativity and rich sense of humour of the Ghanaian people.
So popular is the dance now that in D’banj’s Oliver Twist video, a white American does the Azonto dance as D’banj looks on in apparent awe. On a visit to Ghana, Wizkid also does a freestyle song on Azonto. There is bound to be more from Nigerian artistes in due course. Now is the Etighi Dance, a beautiful dance step that originated from Calabar during the 2010 Carnival Calabar and has practically become popular by the rave of the moment artiste, Iyanya.