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  • Writer's pictureRhoda Akua Ameyaa

Essay: How the Diaspora Represents African People in Music and Dance


A group of African drummers (via peopleyoushouldknow.net)


Music and dance are notable elements of African diaspora culture. For decades, music and dance have been used as tools for storytelling and representation of cultural heritage. Music and dance combine parts of our history and identity with telling unique stories. It has been pleasing to witness the rate at which Afro diaspora music and dance have gained the public’s attention, going viral on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok. Regardless of whether you are African or not, you have perhaps heard of musicians like Davido, Wizkid, Olamide, Shatta Wale, KiDi, Ebony Reigns, Sho Madjozi, Niniola, Fela Kuti, Sarkodie, and many others whose music do not only stand out with their instrumentals but also the uniqueness of the Languages each of these musicians uses in their songs.


Of course, African music and African dance imply a homogeneous culture in the diaspora (Diouf 21) and do not justly account for the uncountable cultures within the diaspora. Music has expressed the varieties of this culture and has proven to the world how the people in the diaspora relate to one another despite cultural differences. That is, music has provided a common culture for the African people since time immemorial. For a while now, musicians across Africa have used languages that are not their native languages in the lyrics of their songs. For example, the word “Ohemaa” is an Akan word from Ghana that translates to “ queen.” The word has been used in many non-Ghanaian songs to praise the distinct beauty, powerful presence, and elegance of the African diaspora women.


Through music, the diaspora comes together to share the lexis and structure of our numerous languages, fostering a sense of togetherness and reminding us of our similarities. In addition to that, Music has ensured that Unity, a cultural identity for African countries and the diaspora as a whole, is a hallmark for the African people as it has been for decades. The music you stream on Spotify, Amazon Music, and the other music platforms are not the only ones that characterize the African Diaspora, even though those have become mainstream. In Ghana, for example, many traditional music genres are used for different functions like Funerals, weddings, initiations, and other gatherings.


Nana Ampadu, a well-known highlife musician in Ghana (image from ghanaweb.com)


These traditional genres of music are most intense with emotions and are very expressive. They communicate messages like joy, disappointment, sadness, and several others. For example, the music genre “Highlife” is known to narrate stories of love, togetherness, and triumph of romantic hard work while “Adadamu,” a subsection of the Highlife genre (if you will), is known to teach people life lessons through the use of proverbs, storytelling, and recapturing the lives of people. The wide range of musical genres within the diaspora is just an indication of how diverse yet strikingly similar we are as people with a common history. Music has always been with dance. Just as not only mainstream music genres like afrobeat, amapiano, reggae, and the other music genres are not the only kind of music that depicts the Afro-diasporic culture, their counterpart dances are also not the only dances that tell our story. There are a lot of traditional dances that are internal yet very popular among the African people.


Dances like Sikyi, Gahu of Ghana and Koroso of Nigeria, and others often show stories of young love, joy, and youthful exuberance. Sikyi, for example, is mainly an Ashante youth dance that expresses their experiences in life, from covering such areas as love and the dramas of daily life. It is dubbed flirtatious and uses an ensemble that provides the beat meant to bring about the romance. Gahu is a social dance of the Ewe people in Ghana, Nigeria, and Benin and is a celebratory piece. Gahu was brought about by the joys of Ewe fisherman, who learned the music while on a fishing expedition (Gorlin 107).


What is unique about these dances is that they have a common history of origin and reasons for performance. They also bring people together because of how addictive their rhythms are.


Some friends and I performing a version of Sikyi at our School’s Dance Concert in 2019

While it is great that the world is appreciating the music and dance of the African diaspora, we mustn't monotonize these dances and music. It is important to credit the creators for these popular contemporary dances and strive to know the histories behind the dances that inspired the modern Afro dances. It is also necessary to acknowledge how these traditional and contemporary Afro-diasporic music and dances have influenced several other dances and music genres in the Western World and beyond. I will conclude by mentioning some of my favorite afro-diasporic dancers on Instagram: Dancegodlloyd, Afrobeast_, incrediblezigi, Pocolee_officail, itsjustnife, Andy_dlamini, and several others. Check them out!


Afrobeast, a popular Ghanaian afro dancer (image via his Twitter)


WORKS CITED/REFERENCED

1. Diouf, E. (2019). SAUCE!: Conjuring the African Dream in America through Dance. In DEFRANTZ T., GLOVER D., BELAFONTE H., & EARLY J. (Authors) & WELSH K., DIOUF E., & DANIEL Y. (Eds.), Hot Feet and Social Change: African Dance and Diaspora Communities (pp. 21–36). Urbana, Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press. doi:10.5406/j.ctvswx837.6


2. Disphoria. (2017, March 25). Sikyi. Retrieved June 08, 2021, from https://ghanagoods.co.uk/sikyi/


3. Diouf, E. (2019). SAUCE!: Conjuring the African Dream in America through Dance. In DEFRANTZ T., GLOVER D., BELAFONTE H., & EARLY J. (Authors) & WELSH K., DIOUF E., & DANIEL Y. (Eds.), Hot Feet and Social Change: African Dance and Diaspora Communities (pp. 21–36). Urbana, Chicago; Springfield: University of Illinois Press. doi:10.5406/j.ctvswx837.6

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