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Music Culture: Nigeria Setting Standards



Dance means many things to many people and cultures, but remains universal. ANTHONY ADA ABRAHAM examines the different dance styles that hold sway in Nigeria and the role of dance in 21st century societal development.

Dance refers to a styled, patterned bodily movement(s) which is (are) performed in relation to music. Dance is a systematic movement of the body by a dancer to rhythm(s) and might also tell stories or messages. It is a centuries-old art form which comes in handy for celebrations, personal exercise, a ritual, meditation etc.

The Nature of Dance:

In the ’60s and ’70s, as dance was being established as a sub-discipline, the question of its object of study seemed urgent. There was heated debate on the nature of ‘dance’. Most dance scholars agreed with Mauss (1973 [1935]) that dance movement and its evaluation varied cross-culturally, but there was disagreement as to whether the study of dance should be subsumed within that of music, whether dance necessarily possessed a purposefully aesthetic dimension, whether it had to be addressed to an audience to qualify as ‘dance’, or whether movement had to be recognised as ‘dance’ in a given cultural context to be worthy of study.

In the Nigerian context, a nation of over 200 million has been churning out various dance steps that have set the pace across Africa and the world in general. From the early ’90s to date, there have been various dance steps creations in Nigeria. Since the time of Daddy Showkey, the dread-locked Ajegunle master who popularised ‘galala’ dance steps (which involves the movement of the legs backwards and forward as if someone is about to slide crazily like a drunkard), there have been countless others.

Though ‘makossa’ has no Nigerian roots, Nigerians clearly helped popularise the dance moves of singers like Awilo Longomba’s, Koffi Olumide, Magic System, Papa Wemba and many others. Back then, if there wasn’t a makosa song played in a party, that involves the shaking of the waist with reckless abandonment, nobody would take that ‘gig’ serious. For some, ‘Suo’, dance moves also originated from Ajegule and was made famous by Marvellous Benjy. Suo/Konto involves the movement of the hand as if someone is tying a rope. It did make the dancer look stupid, but not a few took delight in “jumping around like kangaroos,” as someone once put it.

Then came the ‘Yahoozay’ dance by Olu Maintain, following the release of his song in 2008 under the music label of Kennis Music. The dance step involves making finger-based offerings to the highest. ‘Yahoozay’ was a force that launched the artiste’s solo career, dominated the country for a year and got then US Secretary of State Colin Powell to do the dance when he came on a state visit to Abuja.

‘Alanta’ was another crazy dance that took Nigeria by storm, too. It involves the movement of the arms and legs in an alternate manner, with crazy facial expressions to go with it. The movement of the arms and legs as if the dancer was having a bad itch was especially popularised by Terry G, Artquake and many others. Though there have been debates over who made ‘Azonto’ popular, Ghanaians want the get kudos for it. Many Nigerians, however, disagree. In their opinion, Wizkid’s hit number ‘Azonto’ took it beyond the shores of Africa.

‘Etighi’, a traditional dance of the Efik, Ibibio people came and so did Davido’s ‘Skelewu’, ‘Shoki’ (made popular by Lil’ Kesh whose single of the same name gave his career a huge push and made the dance style one of the bigest dance trends of the last decade). Minister of Power, Works & Housing Tunde Fashola did perform the dance on the APC’s campaign trail in 2015.  ‘Shakiti Bobo’ was a dance style made popular by self-styled King of the Streets, Olamide. In 2015, Olamide released a single of the same name which turned out to be one of his sneak attacks on radio and the clubs titled ‘Bobo’.The song featured a mildly expressive dance style which was referred to as “Shakiti Bobo,” after he did the dance while repeating the line in the song’s hook. As with everything he does, the dance style caught on, especially in Lagos.

‘Shaku Shaku’ is the current craze. If you’ve been anywhere near social media or in Lagos, you’ve seen ‘shaku-shaku’ performed many times before. It became popular blew up at the end of 2016 but those who are more familiar with its origins claim it has been a rave in Agege for over two years. The dance’s popularity is down to the emergence of the new ‘Shaku-Shaku’ sound. The trend has inspired the creation of an entire sub-genre of songs, made specifically for the dance. Two of these songs, ‘Shepeteri’ and ‘Legbegbe’ have become sleeper hits in their own regard. Their success has also elevated the careers of two underground acts that you would do well to pay attention to – Idowest and Slimcase.