Ghana is divided into ten regions and for our last group trip on the Obroni Bus, we headed to the Volta Region, located in the eastern side of the country. I’m a sucker for boating and lakes so when I heard we would be staying on the lake itself, taking a boat ride, and hiking to the tallest waterfall in Western Africa I became a giddy girl!
Our bus ride to Volta held an array of new scenery. Accra is a big city so most of the space is taken up by markets, houses, or desolate fields. But once we entered into the Volta Region all of the scenery changed from a man made market city to a green world of jungle and new wildlife.
The waterfall was amazing, to say the least. It was ferocious with a magnitude hard to imagine unless you stood under or near it, which we did. But for us to even get near the waterfall Ghanaians had to guide us towards it… Backwards. Facing towards the waterfall wasn’t happening… The splashes were enough to poke your eye out! Breathing was near impossible because water shot down your throat. And good luck walking alone with the wind. As I faced backwards and moved slowly towards the roar with a Ghanaian tightly holding my hand, water splashed up and stung my back like shards of glass. The wind created from the fall was enough to knock you off your feet, even being stomach deep in the water. I wasn’t ever able to stand under the fall, I think I would have been pummeled into the pool even more than I felt I was, but I stood darn close. As shards of water hit and bounced off my back, my hair blew into my face, my screams were drowned out by the roar of the waterfall, my legs shook from the undercurrent and I lost my balance. Able to regain my bearings quickly by the helpful hand of my new Ghanaian friend, I took a minute to open my eyes to a small squint. I saw dozens of Ghanaians dancing, chanting, and laughing in the more calm and distant water; a euphoric moment for all of us indeed.
The rollercoaster Obroni Bus rides rock a lot of us to sleep. Sorry if I caught you in an unfortunate light; I think you’re all beautiful sleepers
…we might have more pictures of each other taking pictures than pictures of Ghana itself.
A few days after arriving in Accra we met the freshest, hippest Ghanaian to help guide us along this emotional ride. I wasn’t entirely sure how it happened. Bjorn and Rob were doing some spontaneous jig, and out of nowhere Sonny starts breaking it down, his hips grooving side to side as he rubs his foot into the ground. The dance reminded me of a 70s disco move as he punched his fist several times between his legs and lifting his arm into the air.
We all kept noticing the dance move ever since then. It’s called “Azonto.” According to an article I read in Dust Magazine, it’s more than just a move; it’s about “the dance, the music & the mindset.” My co-worker TK said that typically a dance will be popular with one song and soon fade out within a few months, but now artists are writing music to go along to this dance style. It’s here to stay.
Sonny invited us to a birthday party that he was DJ-ing, and I was way too amused with his friends’ impressive dance skills. One guy would show me how to do Azonto, and then I would make up some move entirely irrelevant to popular American culture, but hey, we break danced. I have even seen children try to show us their skills whenever we are visiting a new region. Ghanaians know how to get down. Just like anywhere else in the world, there are movements that older generations just don’t understand. Azonto isn’t any different.
Dust magazine writer KG wrote about how Ghanaians used to look to America for trending dance styles like the “Dougie,” which I still have not understood exactly what that even is. Now they are more excited about their own style of dance even when listening to American music, but Ghanaians commonly dance to high life music when practicing Azonto. The unique blend of reggae, jazz, and synthesizers create the perfect mood. But if they really want something pumpin’ then hiplife is the obvious option, mixing high life and hip-hop. Check out Edem’s “Over Again” or Sarkodie’s “Azonto Fiesta” to get a feel for what is hot right now.
KG also said that adults think “Azonto” means “uncultured,” but it has become anything but that, creating a sensation just within the last year.
“It represents a mindset in which Ghanaians specifically (and Africans in general) start taking pride in our own creativity and potential, something we all too often do not do, especially in culture where we too often relegate what is local to ‘primitive’ or ‘lower class.’” – KG, Dust Magazine
Apparently last month there was a segment on BBC that broadcasted the Azonto trend, saying people are even flying form the UK to learn what the dance is all about.
It looks like Sonny’s dance is bigger than I thought!
“We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.” – Pico Iyer
Surrounded by boxes of Fan Ice, bags of cold water, an assortment of Mentos gum and a lot of curious Ghanaians: the obroni bus slowly makes its way down a crowded and steep downtown Kumasi street. Just below us, under an ocean of weathered metal roofs and unstable wooden walls, the exterior of the Kumasi market slowly comes into focus. It won’t be long now. The acid test is about to begin. Glancing out the windows I feel like a wide-eyed child who’s about to experience his first roller coaster ride.
A few moments later, Eric maneuvers his way into a spot that isn’t far from one of the market’s entrance. Getting up from his seat, Sonny stands and leans against the door. A few last words of wisdom, “Probably the most important thing you need to keep in mind is that the people in the market mean business and they move fast. So keep up with the group and don’t get lost.” Oh Sonny, I remember thinking, quit being so dramatic. I glance back out the window and notice a mother and her two kids sitting on the thin median that separates the two opposing streams of traffic. The straps of her dirty bra are pulled halfway down. She is breastfeeding in the middle of dust and mud and piles of garbage. With a tired and indifferent look she notices my awkward fascination. Caught, I whipped my head back around to Sonny.
It has been almost one year since I first saw their photos. Bright and full of joy, the faces of children in vibrant violet uniforms looked back at me from my computer screen as I sat in my Portland home exploring the “Media in Ghana” blog by past students. One photo in particular had moved something inside me: the upturned face of a little girl with eyes outlined in blue and a smile bursting with happiness. I had heard of the program, a product of the School of Journalism and Communication, but I never had imagined I would make it this far.