Azonto is a dance craze originating alongside Korean chocolate bars and Kofi Annan in the gold coast of Ghana. The trend has snowballed, chiefly resulting from a viral video of tightly clad, masked dancers introducing their feverish hand moves to the smiling streets of London. A product of Ghanaian traditional music and hip hop dancing combined, Azonto is a contender alongside shuffling and the Gangnam trot for the title dance of the decade, but here are a few aspects of the caper that may seem surprising.
There seems to be a trend towards lampooning the banal in the biggest dance crazes nowadays, from Gangnam style’s horse-trot to the (too-often) office-based antics of the Harlem Shake. Azonto falls squarely in line, with the trademark hand movements supposedly mimicking everyday activities. Popular moves include washing clothing by hand, calling out to a pretty lady, making a phone call, and even boxing the haters.
The controversy surrounding any hip-thrusting dance craze is almost to be expected. At the 10th anniversary celebrations of the African University College of Communication in Accra, Ghanaian traditional musician Azonko Simpi brought to our attention the origin of the word ‘azonto’ as originally meaning a wayward girl, and has since declined to do further workshops on the topic. In Ghanaian ghetto slang, the word can also be interpreted as ‘ugly.’ Ironic, given the abundance of the genre’s current popularity.
More than a dance
The world-famous dance has seen usage in situations further and further away from the streets and dance floors. A London based football trainer has started using Azonto to encourage African ladies to attend his gym and has subsequently adapted it to suit a variety of situations, from PE classes to hen nights. Ghanaian footballer Asamoah Gyan celebrates his goals with an Azonto shuffle. A sanitised version of the dance called ‘Chrizonto’ is practiced by some church-goers and even participants in musical funeral processions.
Nothing new, really
Modern software allows musicians to create a whole variety of new possibilities that would be prohibitively difficult, complex or expensive to record using actual musicians. But even with a plethora of new virtual options to pump out hits, it seems that popular songs still follow a fairly simple musical structure. The catchy beat of Azonto may take its roots from timeless African rhythms, but the basic chord progression is the exact same as parts of a number of famed global hits, including Twist ‘n Shout by The Beatles, La Bamba by Richie Valens, Wild Thing by The Troggs,You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC, Louie Louie by The Kingsmen and Walking On Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves, to name a few.
While Azonto still presides upon the throne of African dance crazes, all good pelvic thrusts must come to an end. Fortunately for booty-shakers worldwide, Africa’s known natural penchant for song and dance has supplied the coming demand with some equally exciting alternatives waiting in the wings. Oliver Twist, a song and dance style by Nigerian DJ D’banj, currently races ahead of Azonto in popularity and describes an insatiable desire for more women. Bobaraba from Ivory Coast appears to focus all movement on the view from behind the dancer. Ghana’s Amanda dancing is known as the “African Salsa”, while Nigerian Etighi’s moves have dancers hanging over their feet in a rigid posture, bearing close resemblance to the classic robot dance. And perhaps the most self-explanatory dance form, Soukous, takes its name from a French word meaning ‘to shake’.