The West African dance craze continues its expansion and evolution.
Words by Nonny Orakwue (@Verbal_Vixen).
Azonto is proving to be somewhat of a phenomenon in the UK – it’s not everyday that a dance craze originating in Africa enthralls the West. An infectious dance that has its roots in Ghana, that at first glance may appear to be no more than a series of random shuffles and arm movements, has conquered Ghana, spread to neighbouring Nigeria and has now made its mark on the UK.
The azonto invasion in the UK is undoubtedly linked to the simultaneous ‘rise of afrobeats’, a movement which itself has been spurned by a growing population of young British-born Africans now willing to proudly fly the flag for the continent and its diverse cultures. However, the very origin and definition of the UK afrobeats scene has been quite a contentious topic over the past few months, with claims of ownership playing out in both national press and social media. But it was a small but strong contingent of DJs who made their names playing to university crowds — a scene that in Britain is pivotal in making and breaking urban tracks on the underground, which included the likes of DJ Larizzle, Sef Kombo, DJ Neptizzle and DNA that really got the momentum going on the university circuit up and down the country. And it was from here that
the azonto epidemic spread even beyond the young British-Africans.
With its sequence of gestures that mimic everyday tasks such ironing, cooking, driving and talking on the phone, the azonto resonates with a young UK audience who are already familiar with “skanks” (routines that originate from dancehall music), as well as their own somewhat obsolete homegrown sound of funky house popularised by artists such as Donae’o, Gracious Kay and Tribal Man, which also require an obligatory set of well-thought out moves on the dancefloor. “[Azonto] It’s a form of expression and people like to show off, so they practice in front of the mirror at home and then perform their best Azonto moves in the club,” says JamJam, a popular Luton-based afrobeats radio host and DJ who’s even released his own afrobeats track and also happens to be Caucasian.
It’s not only the universities and clubs that have helped to spread Azonto fever. How can you not expect a young audience to be captivated by this infectious dance when their “idols” are too? Big name soccer players like Asamoah Gyan and Emmanuel Adebayor are often spotted strutting their stuff on and off the pitch, while popular urban artists such as Donae’o, Skepta, Estelle, Sway and Sneakbo (who are all of direct African heritage) have all embraced the Afrobeats movement just the same, by either remixing or collaborating on tracks by African artists and thus birthing to another set of azonto-ready songs. Plus, there’s also a healthy number of UK based afrobeats acts who are equally championing the genre. Their sound and style, a fusion of both African and British cultures, resonates with their audience, like Dotstar, Afrikan Boy, Fuse ODG and Mr Silva who have all recently released Azonto anthems.
The internet itself has been a driving force in spreading the craze. Any curious Afrobeats fan is only a smartphone away from discovering hundreds of instructional videos with a simple search of ‘azonto’, making it easy to work on perfecting their technique.“It’s such an addictive dance and breeds excitement due to the fact that you can do any moves with it. Azonto is all about the rhythm and you can combine this with any dance move to communicate something,” says Fuse ODG, who first captured audiences with his viral YouTube video ‘azonto’ which to date has racked up over 5 million views.
It’s not just the British-African stars who are getting in on the act, even their Caribbean counterparts are no longer ashamed to rep Africa. Rappers Wretch 32 and Chip were recently seen perfecting their azonto with the help of Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie, who himself helped to popularize the dance with his party smash “U Go Kill Me”. Even British Prime Minister David Cameron was pictured getting in on the action after meeting Fuse ODG’s manager Andre Hackett earlier this year.
It also can’t be denied that the emergence of Nigerian artist D’Banj, already a megastar in Africa, onto the UK mainstream (his single “Oliver Twist” charted at No.9 in the national charts) has helped to amplify afrobeats and the accompanying azonto trend. Further fuelled by specialist radio shows like DJ Edu’s Destination Africa on BBC 1Xtra, a burgeoning club night scene and a continuous stream of concerts featuring some of the biggest acts on the continent – Wande Coal, P Square, Wizkid and Ice Prince – it doesn’t appear that the thirst for Azonto will be dying out anytime soon.