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Sexy dance sends Africa into a spin

Published Oct 30, 1999

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Alex Duval Smith

Birds do it, bees do it, even educated fleas do it. But when Africans sing suggestively or, worse, indulge in dirty dancing, they are increasingly falling foul of the law.

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Togo last week became the latest African country, after Kenya, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroon, to take action against dance crazes accused of spreading immorality on the continent.

The small west African country banned mapouka, a hip traditional dance involving a lot of bottom-wiggling.

"We will not let our youth be depraved by this pseudo-culture," said Horatios Freitas, Togo's youth minister.

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On Friday, lovers of mapouka retaliated by organising a concert at the municipal stadium in the capital, Lome.

The Kenyan authorities have gone further in their attack on ndombolo, a related dance, which is accused of being so erotic that it contributes to the spread of Aids.

Professor Julius Meme, the permanent secretary in Kenya's ministry of health, told an epidemiology conference in Mombasa: "The dance is sexually suggestive and drives many Kenyans to casual sex, leading to the spread of Aids."

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In Johannesburg, increasingly an African melting pot, at least three clubs, frequented mainly by people from Francophone countries, play ndombolo regularly.

"Even though the dance was around before Laurent Kabila became president of Congo, the dance is seen as poking fun at the way he walks, with his bottom sticking out," said Bonaventure, a Burundian in his 30s.

There is not an African country where ndombolo, mapouka or any of their variants are not popular.

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Dances evolve all the time and musicians in small countries are often obliged to pander to the powerful outside trends, which mostly seem to emerge from Ivory Coast and Congo, or lose audiences.

Consequently, government bans seem doomed to fail and the dances just get more saucy.

Often the authorities have to capitulate: earlier this year, there were clashes in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, after police attempted to halt an ndombolo concert.

While the bans seem absurd, they are a reflection of the reality that African countries are increasingly at a loss over how to stem the spread of Aids.

In some countries, a quarter of the adult population is estimated to be carrying HIV.

But Niger, which is mainly Muslim, cited purely a moral agenda when the mayor of the capital, Niamey, banned naneisse, which means "lie on me".

Tired of being blamed for all the depravity of the continent, as is often the case, Congo took exception, last year, to a ban on ndombolo in Cameroon.

The government of Kabila said the Cameroonian move was "anti-Africanist" and "protectionist" because the country's own musicians were no match for those imported from Congo.

Didier Mumengi, Congo's information minister, said: "If they had banned all obscenity on screen, including Madonna clips, it would have been understandable. But a specific measure against Congolese music shows the weakness of their own industry."

Congolese musicians, such as the veteran Tabu Ley Rochereau, were equally defiant. "Congolese songs will not disappear from Cameroon. Our artists will adapt by bringing out new styles," he said.

"In the 1980s, Kenya tried to ban Congolese music. I fought back by writing songs with little phrases in English about Nairobi, or praising President Daniel arap Moi, and they soon changed their minds." - Independent on Sunday

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