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Ghana Slows the Beat Down: Alkayida

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We’ve been hearing chatter from Ghana for the past few years about something called alkayida (or, with a more orthodox spelling, Al Qaeda). At first we were a bit concerned that the international terrorist organization had moved into this famously peaceful country, even as an idea. However, despite the name, alkayida simply refers to the latest street dance of Accra, whose popularity is reflected in hundreds of YouTube videos.

The name was a bit mysterious, and honestly, we didn’t quite understand what the style was all about. When we visited Ghana in 2013 for our Hip Deep Ghana series, various musicians and promoters told us that azonto (the international dance craze that grew from Ghana’s fertile pop culture) was dead, and alkayida was the new thing. But when we listened to the tunes that mentioned the term and watched the music videos, we didn’t notice much that seemed all that different from azonto (for example). We felt vindicated in our opinion when some major producers, including E.L. (in a recent Afropop interview), dismissed alkayida as just an offshoot of azonto.

However, all that seems to have changed. And we finally get it. Alkayida is different (or at least it has become so)! Here’s how:

1) Alkayida tunes are much slower than azonto, and the beat has a pronounced one-two swing that is different and new:

2) Also, as you may have noticed, these videos contain their fair share of  bumping, grinding and booty-shaking.  Although a far cry from Jamaican daggering (no link, you can look it up yourself) or even Congolese video dancers, this style is new for Ghana, which tend to like its videos much tamer, due to the environment of religious morality that pervades public culture.

The latest tune by Guru, “Alkayida (Boys Abr3),” starts with a little parodic skit that clearly illustrates the musical difference between azonto and the new thing:

If you need further convincing of the changes in musical style, compare this to Guru’s hit from 2011, “Lapaz Toyota.”

Big thanks to Ben Paulding, an extremely talented American drummer living and working in Ghana, for alerting us to these musical and cultural developments.

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