Any Afropop song worth its salt is inherently hinged upon its ability to make you dance, and artists tend to gear the music towards danceable rhythms that will get a party started or rile a crowd of concert-goers up. While we did the Makossa, Swo and Yahooze through our formative years in the noughties, those dance moves didn’t quite hold the kind of reverence the ones we have today do.
Over the past few years, some artists have seen massive success due to their attachment to a particular dance move, which catapulted their songs to new heights. Take Zlatan for example, who coined the current rave, Zanku (an acronym for the phrase “Zlatan Abeg No Kill Us”), which has birthed its own sound of popular music at the moment. Even though there is a slight obsession at home to declare the end of the Zanku era, it’s wise to truly appreciate something for what it is. Starting as a dance from the streets of Lagos, popularised by Zlatan and Chinko Ekun, Zanku became a global phenomenon, which has most recently been tapped into by Beyoncé in her latest film, ‘Black Is King’. For that alone, the movement will go down in history as one of the most dominating runs in Nigerian culture.
Now that outside is closed, and we don’t even know when it will be safe to hit the clubs again, we’re missing all those sweaty times when the person standing next to you just had to spread themselves to bust a shoki – even when there’s literally no space for all of that. So while we’re reminiscing about those times, we’ve decided to look back at all the popular dances we had in the last decade. From Davido’s Skelewu to the Shaku Shaku which made it over the shores, here are the most popular dance moves we had in the past decade:
Galala (Nigeria, ’90s)
Granted, this dance arrived way before the 2010s, but we just had to give the Galala an honourable mention, seeing as the move still goes off today.
Dancing has remained a reliable bridge between the street (ghetto) and popular Nigerian culture. When Daddy Showkey emerged from the streets of Ajegunle to dominate the mainstream music scene in the ’90s, he brought along the Galala dance step which required dancers to bend their knees and shuffle their feet in one spot. The dance has remained evergreen and saw a sort of resurgence through the late 2010s, with dancers still referencing it occasionally to show their range and performers like Santi breaking out the move to wow their fans. Though Daddy Showkey, Baba Fryo and others from that region were known for popularising the dance and the sound that goes along with it, the credit for its origin goes to the vibrant dance scene in the Ajegunle ghetto.
Azonto (Ghana, 2011)
If we never get to the bottom of the friendly war between Nigeria and Ghana, we’ll pin it on the fact that Wizkid hijacked their dance move and made it his own. Back in 2012, the azonto was all the rave, thanks to Sarkodie and E.L’s late 2011 offering, “U Go Kill Me”. Initially emerging from Accra’s bubbling Jamestown, the moves and sequencing for the azonto dance can be in part credited to the Ghana’s Ga tribe. Making it all the way to Prince William and David Cameron in the UK, for the diaspora communities in particular, the Azonto became a unifying symbol of West African pride, and was arguably the first dance to popularise social media challenges, which have in turn changed the way we appreciate music.
Kukere (Nigeria, 2012)
Afropop singer, Iyanya lucked out in 2012 when he created the viral dance that became known as Kukere following the release of his breakout song of a similar name. The dance is actually a direct adaptation of the traditional Efik dance known as the Etighi dance. Being of Efik origin himself, it comes as no surprise that the artist popularised a dance step which greatly nods to his culture but for a modern audience. The dance went on to become popular in Nigeria and Ghana and even became a mainstay in the United Kingdom, where members of the diaspora still connected to home would adopt the dance and popularise it in dance clubs across the shores.
Alkayida (Ghana, 2013)
Though it didn’t take off quite as far as the azonto dance craze, alkayida was the dance move from Ghana that followed, in a sense evolving out of the azonto cultural reset. Naming his hip-hop hit after the song, “Alkayida (Boys Abr3)” , Ghanaian rapper Guru brought the dance into popularity. Unfortunately, its controversial name meant that the alkayida wasn’t as far reaching as the azonto, but what the dance lost in reach it makes up for in longevity, as this dance move remains on the roster ’till today.
Shoki (Nigeria, 2013)
Shoki had its moment in the mainstream in 2014 as it took over from Davido’s Skelewu dance trend. Emerging from the youth of Agege in 2013 Dre San, Lil Kesh and Orezi released singles titled “Shoki” that year, but it was Lil Kesh’s debut single under YBNL that fully captured the essence of the Shoki rave. While the bend and slowly lift before tossing away dance motion was innocent it itself, the context for Shoki has always been sexual since it was first popularised by Femi Kuti’s ‘Shoki Shoki’ album released in 1998. The sexual undertone of Shoki fit Lil Kesh’s lewd brand of Afropop and he championed the dance through his sexually provocative lyrics and music video which featured Davido also doing the Shoki dance. Everyone was doing the Shoki after that and it certainly helped that it wasn’t a complicated move to learn.
Skelewu (Nigeria, 2013)
The year was 2013 when Davido’s viral dance challenge inadvertently led to the nation catching the Skelewu bug. Hit songs always seem to carry with them innovative dance moves, and Davido definitely piqued our interest when he set off this viral dance, which was further encapsulated by the song’s video. Though short-lived, the song and the dance competition was all anyone could talk about, and thus a new way of partying was born. The song had two videos, one which was an instructional guide on how to do the dance and a second, more theatrical video which imagined a dystopian post-apocalyptic world where the Skelewu fever took off, leaving only those that were able to get down, have fun and hit that Skelewu.
Sekem (Nigeria, 2013)
The video for Iyanya’s “Kukere” not only set the stage for the dance craze of the same name, it was also the catalyst behind Sekem, the viral dance that grew in popularity between late 2013 and mid-2014. The “Kukere” video featured an extensive cameo from MC Galaxy, who provided comic relief with his complicated style of the Kukere dance, and shot to a higher level of fame shortly after. Leveraging on that rise in popularity, MC Galaxy, a comedian by trade at the time, a composite evolution of Kukere and Skelewu. The T-Spize-produced title song came with lyrics instructing listeners on how to perform the dance step—one hand in front and one in back, and gliding to the side by twisting one foot. The dance craze permeated the mainstream through a challenge where prizes were awarded, and the sound MC Galaxy brought along also left its mark, even making imitators out of P-Square, who mimicked the sound on their smash hit, “Shekini”.
Shakiti Bobo (Nigeria, 2015)
Olamide may be the undefeated King of the Streets, but he’s undeniably also built a reputation as being the king of viral dance trends. Back in 2015, he kicked off the viral Shakiti Bobo dance following the release of his hit single “Bobo”, and immediately won the hearts of the nation with the catchy song and even catchier dance step that we’ve seen sported by some of our faves like Missy Elliot. Though tied to the sound of the streets, the dance went on to become one of the unifying dance moves from these parts and you couldn’t hit up an event spot without having to bust into this dance at least once #thatyear.
Shaku Shaku (Nigeria, 2017)
Shaku Shaku was one of the first African dance moves to go viral on the internet. It all started when Olamide initiated a dance challenge to decide which dance crew to feature in the music video for his street smash, “Wo” in 2017. Lagos-based dance crew, Westsyde won the challenge with their feet shuffling and hand bondage dance choreograph which they called Shaku Shaku. While the song went on to dominate the mainstream music scene in Nigeria, the intersection of dance, music, viral video and social media made the Shaku into a movement that all Africans, both at home and in the diaspora, felt proud to be a part of. There was a communal sense of pride associated to dancing Shaku Shaku and after France‘s predominantly black football team won the World Cup in 2018 and did the Shaku Shaku in celebration, it felt like a validating moment for the African music scene.
Gwara Gwara (SA, 2017)
Rihanna’s performance at the 2018 Grammy’s, Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” music video, and the streets of South Africa all have this dance move in common. Created “from scratch” by South Africa’s DJ Bonz who released tutorials of how to do the dance along with his 2017 single “Ofana Nawa” which features Sobz, the Gwara Gwara dance has taken a well documented tour through South African music – such as the infectious dance tune, “Gobisiqolo” by Bhizer and Babes Wodumo’s Mampintsha-assisted “Wololo” – and beyond.
Zanku (Nigeria, 2018)
New dance crazes are frequent occurrences, but the speed with which the Zanku completely phased out Shaku Shaku was quite remarkable. After fully emerging into the mainstream at the top of 2018, it seemed like we would all be pulling imaginary generator ropes till the end of the year, however, the final quarter of the year came with a drastic flip in the switch. Catalysed by the smash success of Chinko Ekun’s “Able God” and sealed by Zlatan’s “Zanku (Leg Work)”, the Zanku dance – with its feet stomps, bent backs, vigorous shoulder rolls and climactic kick (Gbese!) – became a fixture at year end parties and concerts.
With his involvement on the two aforementioned records and his scene stealing feature on the apex Zanku song, Burna Boy’s “Killin’ Dem”, Zlatan can rightly claim to be the prime populariser of the dance, but its exact origins are quite ambiguous. So far, it has been traced back to Agege, one of the numerous, packed places in Lagos where ghetto coincides with suburbia, and the same place where Shaku Shaku came about. These days, the Zanku has elevated from its murky beginnings into an identifiable dance with international adopters, most recently, Beyoncé in the video for the Shatta Wale-assisted “Already”. That the Zanku is still in vogue and continues to evolve in variation nearly two years later speaks to its durability, and when it fades, it will be remembered as one of the greatest and best dance crazes to take over afropop.
Pilolo (Ghana, 2018)
Pilolo which loosely translates to “go search for”, is a traditional Ghanaian game of hide and seek, whereby one person hides an object and the other children involved in the game search for it. But since 2018, the name Pilolo has been given a whole new meaning as Zigi, the Ghanaian singer who is also known for starting the Kupe craze, named his brand new dance after the game. Coming up with the dance move whilst practicing for a video, Zigi explains:
“I rushed to my brother, showed him the steps and he asked me to add more energy to it. I did more research, watched more dance videos, so I wouldn’t come up with an already existing dance, then went ahead to shoot the dance video, ending it with my new step.”
Performed by Janet Jackson in her set of “Made of Now” on Jimmy Fallon’s The Tonight Show, Zigi’s well researched new move is now another global dance sensation stemming from the continent.
Kpakujemu (Nigeria, 2018)
Olamide has popularised many dance moves in his time. From Shakiti Bobo to the Shaku Shaku right down to 2018’s Kpakujemu, Olamide knows just the right moves to hit the scene with, and just the right grooves to get us dancing. Launched by the winners of Olamide’s “Wo” challenge (which brought about the Shaku Shaku), with a collaborative single, featuring Lyta, Terri and Barry Jhay, and Olamide himself, “Kpakujemu” is the Westside Lifestyle dance crew’s debut single and the first formal introduction we got to the move. Earliest sightings of the Kpakujemu, however trace back to one of Olamide’s visit to Cool FM where he shows OAPs Kemi Smallz and Do2dtun how the newest move in town is done to the tune of his fresh single “Motigbana”. Though, surprisingly, the song “Kpakujemu” song didn’t air with a music video, he dance has caught on and is still a fave amongst dancers and music influencers alike.
Dances by Iffy Atuche
Written by Debola Abimbolu, Adewojumi Aderemi, Dennis Ade-Peter and Tami Makinde