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Dance Music in the 21st Century

Like any good soul out there, a good beat makes me want to move. But am no dance music buff. Neither am I an accomplished dancer. Notwithstanding, I can smell trends. I also happen to find immense satisfaction mapping, describing, characterizing what network theorists have termed as social epidemics. Dance music in the 21st century bears all the cardinal makings of a social epidemic.

As the rhythimically twisted bodies of these caricatures reveal, African music is almost always dance music

A wall mural at the national theater in Accra, Ghana that we’ve christened: The African Contortionist Dance

The three laws of how information spreads through social networks as theorized by best selling author Malcom Gladwell will be our compass in palpating the form of this social epidemic. With over 3000 distinct ethnic tribes, each with nuances in culture and language, it isn’t a stretch to term Africa as the dance music Amazonian jungle.

We therefore naturally look to Africa for inspiration as we map this period in history that marks the Tipping Point of dance music. Dance is music composed for the prime purpose of getting you off your bum to groove along to the beat of the sound.

Why African Dance helps pry the Tipping Point of Dance Music in the 21st Century

Dance has always been silo-ed by demographics. This categorization cages the spirit of dance music, resulting in convenient conclusions that a certain genre is for a certain demographic. Thus labels such as music for the young and hip naively partying their youth away, to categorizations resident in African culture where dance music would serve a certain purpose. Such as the Bikutsi dance form Cameroon for celebration to the Kikalambe dance of the Baga people, a dance which celebrates fertility of the land and people. So on and forth.

Indeed dance is a big part of African culture. It is more than a means to celebrate, more than part of courtship, more than just mere fun. Among the many tribes inhabiting this land of the Pharaohs, Chiefs and legends of  mysticism like Shaka Zulu and Lwanda Magere; dance is spiritual. If you doubt my assertions, you’ll be a convert once you witness the annual Voodoo festival off the coast of Benin.

Better still, spend less time at the game parks/malls/bars and beaches next time you are on safari. Instead spend the spare time sampling Africa’s diversity in culture. This, not because animals don’t dance — as they do when the first rains wet the Savannah to break the dry season — but just to get the picture. A portrait of African dance music as there sure will be some dance in there somewhere in the midst of sampling our culinary delights.

Dance Music & Malcom Gladwell’s First Law of Social Epidemics – The Law of the Few

Malcom Gladwell identifies three types of people responsible for the tipping point: marvens, connectors and salesmen. By putting up this article together, we are doing the work of marvens: collecting, sieving and grading information that will be passed on to the connectors.

Thanks to the internet, there are music only blogs and even niche music blogs and online forums for all types of dance music subcultures: House, Garage, Dubstep, 2 Step etc. But the marvens work remains silo-ed without the next guy: the connector

Mr. Dj The Connector

Connectors are those rare people with webs and webs of connections to tons of people who matter. In today’s social media speak, they call themselves influencers. Picture what would happen if a dude with millions of Twitter followers made a thread out of this article. Talk of going viral.

In the 21st century landscape of dance music, the emergence of crossover maverick connectors has changed the game. The 1990’s had legendary Djs like “The Godfather of House Music “Frankie Knuckles Jr.  The 80’s was the playing field of cult hero, originator of Garage music, Larry Levan.

While both Americans of African descent, were erstwhile, unmatched connectors in their day, 21st century tools make even bigger stars of today’s connectors. Like “The Grandfather of EDM – Electronic Dance Music” David Guetta who gets to strike deals with coverage that only Knuckles and Levan would ever dream of.


Dance Music & Malcom Gladwell’s Second Law of Social Epidemics – The Stickiness Factor

Just how sticky is dance music? In this review by Stanford Uni, the author Brad Hunter offers:

Connections and the personal character of the people trying to spread a message can certainly help it spread, but if the message is not worth spreading, then it is doomed to failure. The stickiness factor says that messages must have a certain character which causes them to remain active in the recipients’ minds. Moreover, they must be deemed worthy of being passed on.MMI-MMC

Hunter explains that Gladwell does not pinpoint “the characteristics of a message which make it sticky”. With this in mind, lets consider the language of dance and its stickiness.

When Maasai Morans dance, it gets so intense. So spiritual that some of the Morans kula Mori.  This is a figure of speech, that translates to: eating your hearts. I guess it consumes their spirits. Imbibes their souls. Hysteria – a whole body trance complete with rolling back of eyes and lack of awareness in person, time and place.

In this dance stupor, a Moran may walk- bulldoze is probably more apt-  through the wall of the Manyatta.  A Manyatta is a traditional hut made from wood frame packed with leaves, earth and finished with a smooth coat cow dung.

Chakacha, Kamavega and Mwomboko are examples of the rich dance culture in Kenya. They rouse similar deep emotions depending on the occasion. Just like dance music pumps up adrenaline on the dance floor, tearing off the roof. Is’nt this that “certain character” that Gladwell speaks of?

Dance Music & Malcom Gladwell’s Third Law of Social Epidemics – Law of Context

The spell of globalization continues to afflict many of Africa’s indigenous dances and dance music. But just like their  European counterparts- The Waltz of the Classical music era; Baroque dance of the Baroque period and Mazurka, Barcarolle & Polonaise of  the Romantic music era- modernism as in many fields often constitutes nothing but a change of tools.

Dance music in the 21st Century is no exception to this rule. Gladwell describes context as the environment in which the message that leads to social epidemic spreads. Environment here constitutes of minding minute changes in the terrain that may bump the message off-course.

Consider this oft regarded role of Bill Gates in the bringing us to the tipping point  of dance music. His baby – Microsoft – made it possible for computers to be personal. With PC generation starting off in the 1980’s, in subsequent decades EDM born. In place of isikuti, the flute, the violin, drums and se; was the computer, sampler and drum machines.

The tempo of this new music was fast and so has been its spread. From the dance floors in Ibiza, Delirium, The Trip and Manumission into the chips that power iPhones and mobile phones. A look at songs topping Billboard charts in the first decade of the 21st Century reveals this steal on us by dance music.

 2010: Dance hits that ruled the airwaves

Tonight ( I’m Lovin’ You) Enrique Iglesias feat. Ludacris and DJ Frank E
Firework Katy Perry from the album teenage dream
Last Days Of Disco Robbie Williams from the album Reality Killed The video star
You Haven’t seen The Last O… Cher from the album Burlesque
One Hot Pleasure Erika Jayne
Who’s That Chick?  David Guetta and Rihanna
Evacuate The Dance Floor Cascada from the album Evacuate the dance floor

2009: Dance Music Billboard Hits

January 17th – February 6th Just Dance – Lady Gaga feat. Colby O’Donis
April 11th  – April 17th Poker Face – Lady Gaga
April 18th – July 10th Boom Boom Pow – Black Eyed Peas
July 11th – October 16th I Gotta  Feeling – Black Eyed Peas

2008: Dance Music Billboard Hits

March 15th – April 4 Love in the club – Usher feat. Young Jeeezy
Jan 5th – March 14th Low – Florida featuring T- Pain
August 23rd – September 5th Disturbia – Rihanna
October 25th – October 31st Womanizer – Britney Spears

2007: Dance Music Billboard Hits

March 24th – April 6th Glamorous – Fergie featuring Ludacris
September 8th- September 14th Big Girl’s Don’t Cry – Fergie
September 29th – October 5th Stronger – Kanye West

All Time Dance Music Hits

One more time Daft Punk from the album Discovery
Satisfaction Benny Benassi Presents The Biz
Who Let The Dogs Out Baha Men
Listen To Your Heart DHT

What’s on your playlist?

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