Dancing, as an art form, has always been expressive. And the West African dance craze “Azonto” certainly communicates a message — although in a more direct way than other dances do.
What is Azonto?
Azonto is the popular dance for a Ghanaian and West African fast-beat music genre. It sometimes can be used as a rude reference to wayward girls.
Azonto music and dance became more popular in mid 2011 when it became Ghana’s first dance moves to have appealed to a lot of international taste. Basically, the dance moves involve mostly hand gesturing with the aim to pass across a message.
Finding its roots in the coastal areas of Ghana, Azonto dance has gained for itself a considerable amount of attention. The Azonto tutorial video on YouTube has garnered close to 600,000 views. Clubbing scenes from Paris to Amsterdam are featuring Azonto. The US Army has made a video of its soldiers dancing Azonto. For his single, “Fine China”, Chris Brown incorporates some Azonto moves in his music video (although he mistakenly credits Nigeria for having started the dance). Yes, Azonto is certainly getting big. It has been in existence for a while but was recently popularized by Fuse ODG, a Ghana born British in his song titled “Azonto” and Iyanya – a Nigerian musician who used it in one of tracks Kukere which became one of the best-selling tracks in Africa.
Its style, though, is quite simple. Like most African dances, Azonto dance involves a lot of knee-bending and hip-gyrating. But its most crucial elements, to either portray a person’s means of livelihood or deliver a direct message, are what makes the dance interesting and popular.
To show what job the dancer has, Azonto makes use of movements that are associated with the particular occupation. A photographer could, for instance, mimic taking shots with a camera as he dances. A carpenter could act like he was hammering a nail into a wall. Or a basketball player could incorporate dribbling, passing, and shooting motions in his moves. The variations of Azonto dance are thus virtually limitless, with every type of profession possibly being portrayed in an infinite number of ways.
Then there’s Azonto’s other communicative function; it can be used to say practically anything. Dialing imaginary numbers on one’s palm, then holding an imaginary phone to one’s ear while eyeing a lady can say, “I want to call you. What’s your number?” Or the message could be encoded by tugging on the collar of one’s own shirt then pointing to the door to say, “It’s hot in here. Wanna step out to catch some fresh air?” The only rule is that the movements used to deliver the message have to be fun and rhythmic.
Quite unbelievably, the dance has even gyrated its way into Ghana’s churches. The religious actually practice an adapted version of Azonto called “Chrizonto”, short for “Christ’s Azonto”. Piesie Esther, one of Ghana’s top gospel artists, is the lead advocate for Chrizonto, even organizing a special prayer service at the Osu Presbyterian Church. There, members of their faithful communicate messages of Christian love through gestures like cupping one’s heart and offering it to other churchgoers.
Still on a religious note, but perhaps more morbidly, the dance has even been used in some of Ghana’s funeral processions as a way of honoring the dead. In one YouTube video of such a ceremony, dancers with a coffin on their shoulders, still to the upbeat and joyous tempo that matches Azonto, move side to side and proceed to point up, as if directing the departed to head towards heaven.
What separates Azonto from other dance crazes like the Macarena, Gangnam Style, and the Harlem Shake, though, is that the sensation seems to have true staying power. Despite the fact that the Azonto dance explosion started in the early 90s, the dance continues to grow in popularity to this day, with new Azonto-tailored music being churned out at least once every week.
It seems like Azonto is here to stay.