There were a lot of great performances at the just concluded 60th annual Grammys. But one of the big highlights was Rihanna’s performance for “Wild Thoughts” with DJ Khaled and Bryson Tiller. Robyn stole the show with her stunning dance moves, one of which was the South African ‘Gwara Gwara’ dance step that has been making rounds on the internet since last year.
South Africans were ecstatic, the entire continent was united. Africa was being represented on the Grammys stage by none other than Rihanna, one of the biggest pop stars in the world. But sadly, the joy was short-lived. Someone at Vulture unwittingly tweeted that the ‘Gwara Gwara’ steps Fenty and her choreographers closed their set with was the ‘Stanky Leg’.
Perhaps the mistake would have been forgivable if both dance moves looked more alike, or if New York magazine hadn’t been able to tell the difference or if Vulture would even bother to apologize, fix the error or just delete the flipping tweet.
Do the stanky leg. pic.twitter.com/nDPJFmY1zb
— Vulture (@vulture) January 29, 2018
But so far, the tweet still remains, a testament of the under-representation of African culture in international media. Dancers and musicians have borrowed from various art forms for as long as we can remember. Rihanna hitting the ‘Gwara Gwara’ isn’t culture appropriation in itself, but the media refusing to acknowledge the inspiration and origin of the dance is a tough pill to swallow. Vulture turned what could have been an opportunity to merge cultures and represent Africa in a good light into yet another case of cultural appropriation.
The media’s failure to acknowledge the African dance is the general problem with cultural appropriation. Both dance steps focus on leg movement as most dance-steps do, but by clamping the South African dance ‘Gwara Gwara’, and GS Boyz’s 2008 classic, ‘Stanky Leg’ together as the same, they are suggesting that the African culture doesn’t deserve due credit.
The mislabeling is problematic because it is similar to practices during colonialism where colonial powers obtained materials, people, and cultural practices as their own. While these colonial powers are still enjoying the benefits of the extracted materials and cultures, many colonized nations are still suffering from the effects of the colonialism. There’s nothing wrong with seeking inspiration from other cultures—Africans probably do it as much as anyone else—but it’s not too much to ask for due credit to be given to the originators. Nor is it too much to ask for proper representation from the international media.
Regardless, Rihanna’s interpolation of the South African ‘Gwara Gwara’ dance step into her performance will not be forgotten in a hurry. Even in the mist of all the misrepresentation and culture appropriation conversations, she continues to prove it’s impossible for her to do any wrong. Watch her Grammy 2018 performance for “Wild Thoughts” below.
Featured Image Credits: Instagram/thefader