When I first heard of the Tofo Tofo dance group on MTV, I mistakenly thought they were talking about Asian Tofu. In reality, that was as far away from the truth I could get! ‘Tofo Tofo’ is actually the name of a dance group from Mozambique who are experts at the Kwaito dance.
Beyoncé Knowles and her choreographer, Frank Gatson Jr, first spotted the dance group on YouTube in 2011. They were intrigued by the Tofo Tofo’s dance steps and tracked them down in Africa to learn more. This was the beginning of what would be a life changing experience for the three men. The group was flown to California to teach Beyoncé and her dancers their native dance moves, which were then incorporated into her music video ‘Run The World (Girls)’.
By combining the local and the global, we have created a subverted ‘glocal’ culture (Schaefer and Karan, 2010). This subversion has blurred the borders between modern and traditional culture, and national and global culture. Hence, nowadays, it is hard to determine whether nation can claim a culture as ‘theirs’.
In the case of Beyoncé’s film clip, she merged both the tradition Kwaito dance style with modern dance moves to create a new style of dance. Similar to what Schaefer and Karan suggest, this new style features both a Western music video for Eastern audiences and an Eastern video for Western audiences (2010). While Beyoncé credited the Tofo Tofo dance group for inspiring her video and featured the group in the clip, I still question whether she created a hybrid dance style, or whether the video exploited the traditional Kwaito dance style to reinvent Beyoncé as an artist?
The steps to the Kwaito dance are said to offer a ‘window into the everyday life of South Africans by building on traditional dance styles from the region’. By incorporating the dance steps into her clip, has Beyoncé retained respect for the traditional style, or has she co-opted the steps for her benefit?
While researching the Tofo Tofo dancers I stumbled upon an African blogger who questioned, ‘I wish the genre was as appreciated and respected here. Why do our artists always need the American/ European stamp of approval for us to value them?’
While I believe Beyoncé credited the artists appropriately, I think that among all of the Hollywood glam and glitter, the cultural meaning behind the Kwaito dance style was forgotten and outshone. Beyoncé may have made the African youths to value the dance style, however will they ever really understand the culture? Or will they always associate it to Beyoncé and her glamorous American music video?
Although I wish I didn’t, I think I believe the latter.