Dance is a popular form of entertainment which has existed for a long time.
Malawi is home to different types of traditional dances such as gulewamkulu, beni, mganda, vimbuza, tchopa and manganje that are performed by different cultures across the country.
Some of the dances are for weddings, healing, initiation, funerals or just entertainment. Most of them convey particular traditional values.
For instance, vimbuza is believed to be a healing dance among the Tumbuka in northern Malawi. Vimbuza dancers are referred to as patients who suffer from different mental illnesses, according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) 2005 findings.
Usually, music and dance complement each other through their style or interpretation. For instance, ceremonial dances convey stories and celebrate rites of passage. Indeed, dance has a history of strengthening and preserving the cultural heritage.
Before the advent of technology, which has birthed gadgets like radios and television sets, people in the village would gather to be entertained by traditional dances such as chitelera, chimtali and mganda. Young people would gathering at night to perform chitelera as a celebration of the moonlight.
Prisca Golowa, a resident of Biwi in Lilongwe, remembers those days well.
She says: “I remember those days when mganda and chintali would be performed at weddings in the village. But today, people prefer disc jockeys [DJs] who play different types of music to entertain people. You go to a wedding, but you rarely see a set of chimtali dancers or mganda,” said.
The influence of modern dance in Malawi
However, the influence of other cultures, technology and migration, have seen dance evolve over time.
Apart from break dance, kwaito and pop, the African entertainment bloc is currently enjoying a wave of new popular dance moves such as Shaku-Shaku (originated from Nigeria) and South Africa’s Gwara Gwara and Amapiano. The influence of these three popular dances has not spared Malawi.
If people are not displaying the antics of Shaku Shaku during weddings or in music videos, then it is Gwara Gwara. Even children know how to dance Shaku Shaku or Gwara Gwara.
Gwara Gwara is performed by rolling and swinging the arm and the elbow in a circular motion, and one of the leg moves in line with the arm’s rhythm.
Shaku Shaku, on the other hand, is a popular street dance which involves stretching out the arms in front and crossing them over each other with the legs widened out and launching into a graceful half-galloping.
Renowned choreographer, theatre and dance practitioner Robert Edward Magassa observes that most Malawians have not yet accepted the art of dance as a form of expression.
He said: “I have seen it through my career how people underrate what dance can do in developing a child’s mind and encouraging behaviour change.”
Magassa said while foreign cultures have a tremendous influence on dance in Malawi and across Africa, traditional dances are also enjoying a fare share of competition.
Said the choreographer: “There is a balance in terms of influence. We are now living in an era where music artists get rewarded for the originality of their cultural or traditional sound.
“For example, Tay Grin and Nyau Music assures you of local nyau dance choreographies in his videos.”
Magassa said the status of dance in Malawi was improving with the coming of young dancers who are getting recognition and make money through teaching and performance while expressing themselves.
Apart from urging government, companies and organisations to introduce dance competitions like Times Television’s Ka Jive, Magassa called on organisers of festivities to peovide more opportunities to local dancers.
Malawi has many talented dance groups which include Ka Jive Season Four winners Soweto Boys, Team Ice, The Click Dancers and Dikamawoko traditional dancers.
Salama Africa from Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa is another popular dance group and a common feature in many events. They have performed on big stages such as Tumaini Festival and Urban Music People Awards.
Salama Afrika co-founder and executive director Toussaint Farini believes the dance industry in Malawi is growing and that the influence of other dances was bearing a positive impact on Malawian culture.
“I think dance has a positive impact on the Malawian culture, especially with the synergy of multiculturalism that we have between the foreign cultures and those of Malawi.
“For example, as Salama Africa, we have attracted the attention of international artists who have started coming to Malawi, precisely to Dzaleka. These artists include Anatii, Namzano Mbata and Tresor Riziki. Concerning videos, we have worked with almost all the active artists in Malawi,” he said.
Farini, however, called on government to improve on technology to support dances to flourish in the country.
“For instance, we need big networks such as South Africa’s MTN and Tigo that can help our music and dance industries to grow, because these Internet providers are very cheap than Airtel and TNM.
Why does the Internet comes in? This enables dancers and musicians to promote their art online and generate millions of views which can be translated into money,” he said.