HHAP Ep. 87: The Indigenization of Breakdance Aesthetics in Uganda

Alfdaniels Mabingo (2022) Re-Contextualising Breakdance Aesthetics: Performance, Performativity, and Re-Enaction of Breakdancing in Uganda, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 34:4, 404-421, DOI: 10.1080/13696815.2022.2132473

In this episode, we speak with Dr. Alfdaniels Mabingo who wrote a fascinating article on breakdance in Uganda for the Journal of African Cultural Studies. Uganda has one of the largest breakdance scenes in the world, and Mabingo examines how the youth have reconfigured, localized, and re-interpreted breakdance aesthetics in that country. He argues that as breakdance spread, and youth innovated the art form, breakdance became part of Ugandan culture. In this sense, breakdance is no longer just a Western import, but Ugandans have evolved a breakdance into a Ugandan art form.

I always say, maybe breakdance is kind of this baby that arrived (in Uganda) by clinging on to the back of this mother that was rap.

Alfdaniels Mabingo

The central thesis of Mabingo’s article is to show how Ugandans have been able to localize breakdance and make it their own. He also talks about his research methods and his interest in what he refers to as “the jua cali theory”, which is about taking the imported and the local and repurposing them to create something new.

As a scholar and practitioner, Alfdaniels Mabingo was always fascinated as he watched young boys and girls who walked long distances to dance and share talents. He saw this as not just a practice but also a movement. He felt that these self-driven young individuals added character to the city of Kampala.

Alfdaniels association with breakdance groups such as Breakdance Project Uganda (BPU) in the last fifteen years, deepened his interest, and hence decided to interrogate breakdance. He realized that the more he investigated and researched breakdance, the more he noticed how breakdance also provides certain social services within the communities in Kampala and beyond. This service he calls the “functionalities of breakdance.” Breakdancers such as B-boy Abdul, worked to inject locally manufactured ideas to make the breakdance responsive and understood in communities. He saw dancers explore ways of blending elements of breakdance and some elements of indigenous Ugandan dances, customs, and music.

The arrival of hip hop culture through breakdance, music, and fashion in Uganda influenced performers such as B-Boy Abdul. Alfdaniels says that in the 1990s, there was a desire among people from Uganda to imitate what was happening in the United States of America. Young Ugandans were heavily influenced by MC Hammer and 2Pac. Later, there was a desire to create something locally that spoke and appealed to Ugandan youth. B-Boy Abdul realized this after attending a competition in the United Kingdom with the “Top Floor” dance crew when their dance was categorized by the judges as not being breakdance. After his return to Uganda, B-Boy Abdul saw the need to take breakdance in Uganda to the next level by fusing breakdance with some elements of indigenous Ugandan dance.

The strength of breakdancers in Uganda, and …across the African continent… is the ability to look beyond the contours of their own space and their own aesthetics and imagination.

Alfdaniels Mabingo

Dr. Alfdaniels Mabingo is a dance researcher, scholar, performer, and educator. He has a PhD in dance studies from the University of Auckland’s National Institute of Creative Arts and Industries, an MA in dance education from New York University, an MA in performing arts from Makerere University, and a Bachelor of Arts in dance from both institutions. Alfdaniels has received numerous scholarships and honors, including the esteemed Fulbright Junior Staff Development Scholarship, the University of Auckland Doctoral Scholarship, and the Makerere University Staff Development Scholarship. Mabingo recently completed a visiting lectureship at Rutgers University in New Jersey, USA, and teaches at Makerere University in Uganda.

Instagram: @amabingo

2023 event flyers for Breakdance Project Uganda

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