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A dance group aims to bridge Afrobeats and Bollywood

Founded by the Tanzania-born dancer Aakash Phulwani in 2018, AfroDesi combines Afrobeats with Bollywood to create a unique genre. Bhavya Vasram
31 July, 2021

While scrolling through dance videos on Instagram and TikTok, one is likely to find some rendition of the gwara gwara—an Afrobeats dance step. Featuring a synchronous swing of the shoulder and knee, the move was first created by the South African artist DJ Bongz and popularised by Rihanna’s performance at the 2018 Grammy Awards and Childish Gambino’s music video for “This is America.” In January this year, AfroDesi, an Indian dance group, collaborated with The Rabbit Dancing Crew, from Ghana, to perform the gwara gwara to a medley of “Afghan Jalebi,” a song from the 2019 Bollywood film Phantom, and “Lifuende,” a song by the Ivorian musician Serge Beynaud.

Founded by the Tanzania-born dancer Aakash Phulwani in 2018, AfroDesi combines Afrobeats with Bollywood to create a unique genre. It runs dance classes in Mumbai, London, Dubai and Dar es Salaam. With cultural literacy—educating dancers on where the moves originate, who created them and what their influences were—at the forefront of its creative process, the group offers people an opportunity to expand their horizons.

Afrobeats is a loose term for contemporary West African pop music, and the style builds on the legacy of the Afrobeat genre. Pioneered by the Nigerian musician and political activist Fela Kuti in the late 1960s, Afrobeat is a fusion of jazz and music from sub-Saharan Africa that was born out of Kuti’s activism, including his call for pan-African unity.

The Nigerian filmmaker Ayo Shonaiya, who produced the documentary Afrobeats: The Backstory, told me that Afrobeat is characterised by a rhythmic, call-and-response style that is heavy on percussion. “On the other hand, Afrobeats is a combination of everything in Afrobeat, plus hip-hop, rap, R&B, Jamaican Dancehall and pretty much any genre that can fit into the beat pattern,” he said. Afrobeats began gaining popularity after “Oliver Twist,” by the Nigerian artist D’banj, ranked second in the UK R&B chart in 2012, and Wizkid, another Nigerian artist, collaborated with the Canadian rapper Drake to produce the song “Ojuelegba” in 2014. In an interview last year, the Nigerian-American artist David Adekele—known as the “King of Afrobeats”—referred to Afrobeats as “our new oil.”

Shaistha Khan is a freelance culture writer who writes on Saudi Arabia, the wider Gulf region and the South Asian diaspora. Her work has appeared in publications including Shondaland, Teen Vogue, Travel + Leisure, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia and The National.