Can you dance the ‘al Qaeda’?

Yes, you heard it right. In other corners on this planet, the word “al Qaeda” has a new (and very politically-incorrect) meaning – it’s the latest dance craze in West Africa. If it wasn’t for the very controversial name, you might have had the privilege to see it in a club or bar in the US, but aren’t you surprised you haven’t even heard of this dance before? The best part is that – regardless of the title – you cannot judge this cute kid when he does the dance like a pro.

As shown above, a student at the Village of Hope orphanage and school complex in Ghana dances to one of the many songs themed for the al Qaeda dance. Every few years a new dance move breaks into pop culture in Ghana, and this kids has already got this one mastered.

The al Qaeda dance, also spelled Alkayida, began as a slower dance with moves that seemed to be mocking the extremist group as seen here in its original version, which is very politically-incorrect in its representation.

However, many Ghanaians warned me (during my May 2013 trip to the country) saying, “Don’t use this dance for terrorism” – a joking way of realizing the dance’s provocative title. It seemed like they were worried about getting the real al Qaeda on their case. A YouTube personality who posted an instructional video for the dance said, “Why name this al Qaeda? Why not name it a fruit or something? Banana?”

More recently, the dance and rhythms have picked up pace and delivered quite colorful choreography. Seen here is a video mixing numerous songs and dancers in a fast-paced representation of the al Qaeda.

Though inappropriate and seemingly unwarranted, the dance’s title might make sense given that it needs to compete for the attention being stolen by its much more refined and classy predecessor, the Azonto. As a Ghanaian friend explained to me, “With the Azonto, you can talk with your hands and truly express yourself through dance.”

Explore the origins of the Azonto dance and its nearly world-wide reach in this BBC video. From the roots of the Azonto in Jamestown (Accra, Ghana), hear how these slick moves spread from the bars in Accra’s rough neighborhoods to UK Prime Minister David Cameron himself.

Street performers in London demonstrate how the dance communicates meaning just like language (shown below). The lyrics say, “Watch me do my Azonto.”
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Since 2011, the Azonto dance is still the more popular export of Ghanaian pop culture. It can be seen in many music videos from Ghanaian artists, but has become popular in the UK with the 2012 remix of FUZE ODG’s original “Azonto” with Antenna and Wyclef Jean shown below.

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Azonto in the London Tube and McDonalds

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The “Azonto” by Wizkid

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And a mix of both infamous dances – the Azonto and al Qaeda – in a dance-off style mix, with more cute kids @ 3:04.

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Benjamin Eveslage

Benjamin Eveslage

Co-Founder & Contributor at le Globaliste
Benjamin Eveslage is a master's candidate in Reseach for International Development at the School of Oriental and African Studies (London, UK). Benjamin's research focus includes political violence in Nigeria, LGBT tolerance generally, and international development. He has travelled to Ghana and Nigeria on various development projects and has an avid interest in West Africa.

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