Call it a dance, a series of choreographed body movements or simply a music sensation that has taken the world by storm. The name ‘Azonto’ rings a bell to both the young and older generation in Ghana. The older generation may regard it with disinterest, but can’t ignore it. A friend of mine who had just returned from the US was lamenting how he had locked himself in his room learning how to dance ‘Azonto’, but still hadn’t mastered the dance. This may sound hilarious, but I bet when the DJ begins to spin the ‘Azonto’ beat, not too many people want to be left out of the fun.
The entire music scene has changed with the coming of ‘Azonto’. New rhythms are being created by music engineers, and music videos have become even more fun to watch. The dance has also broken the monotony of partially naked women who, hitherto, could be seen gyrating to hiplife rhythms in music videos. At events and in music videos, those who tend to display expertise at dancing ‘Azonto’ are mostly youngsters; maybe because their bones are more flexible than the older folks who lock themselves away practicing in vain. While many artistes are producing hit songs and videos on the wings of the ‘Azonto’ rhythm and dance, news from some top guns of the industry indicate the ‘Azonto’ wave has overshadowed some prominent musicians who have consciously or unconsciously decided not to exploit the rhythm in their music. Like many things that are hyped and eventually fizzle out, it was worth finding out whether ‘Azonto’ was here to stay or whether it would soon lose its steam.
What better place to start an interview than with the Ghanaian music producer and engineer extraordinaire, Appiah Dankwah, also known in entertainment circles as Appietus (“in the mix”). As one who is credited with having engineered what could have been the first ‘Azonto’ rhythm in mainstream music, Appietus believes the ‘Azonto’ dance has been around a long time although he says the rhythm that currently accompanies this dance first came into being when he engineered the track ‘muje baya’ by 5Five. In giving a brief background of the ‘Azonto’ dance, he drew a comparison between ballet and classical music and noted that classical music, when it was invented, served to accompany the age-old ballet dance. In much the same way, he said the ‘Azonto’ dance existed mostly among the fishing communities in Accra. A semblance of ‘Azonto’ would normally be displayed in the form of dance routines during events in these communities. Appietus said a closer observation of the dance routine would reveal similarities with the ancient Egyptian dances which involved a lot of hand and body movements. In this regard, he suggested it was possible the origin of the dance went way back to the ancient of days. Many variations of ‘Azonto’ have now evolved in Ghana, and one can almost certainly spot a semblance of some traditional Ghanaian dances in the dance routine.
On the question of whether ‘Azonto’ would stand the test of time, the crack music engineer said he was convinced that the ‘Azonto’ craze was the next big thing after hiplife and that the dance routine and rhythm wouldn’t just fizzle out but rather evolve. According to Appietus, the two main instruments dominant in the creation of an ‘Azonto’ rhythm are the African bass and drums.
In the light of the ‘Azonto’ frenzy, I asked whether musicians who failed to exploit the rhythm in their music would lose out commercially. Appietus said for any commercially-minded artiste, refusing to exploit the ‘Azonto’ rhythm, would have consequences. He added that it was important for musicians to discern the times and seasons in the industry, and react accordingly. The fact that people enjoyed ‘Azonto’ was good reason for artistes to take advantage. He observed that the songs produced by musicians was not meant for their personal shelves, but rather for music lovers and so if any musician decided not to please the public then it was obvious they would be losing out.
Another top music engineer popularly known as Oshogbo, who has recorded for the likes of K.K.Fosu, Kofi B. and Randy Nunoo, said the ‘Azonto’ dance routine was common among the Gas especially those from Tema. Oshogbo said with his experience in the industry, he believes ‘Azonto’ wouldn’t fizzle out and that the dance routine could be improvised to keep it alive. He added that during his travels abroad, many people had often referred to ‘Azonto’ as the ‘Ghana Dance’ and that this was a sound basis for government to promote it at an international level. In conclusion, he suggested it would mind-blowing if an ‘Azonto’ fair were organized in Ghana. He said, “can you imagine a dance fair which would attract people from US, UK and France?”
Indeed, ‘Azonto’ is big in Ghana and maybe even bigger abroad. One can only hope that the Ministry of Tourism would not miss out on the opportunity to make this popular culture a part of its drive to promote Ghana globally. Many a time, forms of popular culture originate from this great nation, but our inability to publicly market it creates an opportunity for foreigners to patent it or rather adulterate. This could happen if ‘Azonto’ is not marketed globally to show it originates from Ghana.