I’ve never had rhythm, which, as a person of color, is extremely embarrassing. I can remember family functions where my mother and my aunties would put on elaborate step shows to famous R Kelly songs. They would excitingly welcome me to join their dance parties, but to their disappointment, I would just trip on my own two feet. I cannot even begin to imagine dancing as well as the dancers in Olamide’s Science Student music video.
Watching Science Student gave me serious Michael Jackson Thriller vibes. The video starts out with Olamide and his pals stumbling upon some creepy old house after their car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. Olamide gets separated from the pack and as he walks towards the house, these weird zombie-like hands start emerging from the ground. A woman leads Olamide into the house, which has all these flashing lights, and people with their faces painted, sprawled out everywhere amongst all these potions. Suddenly, the beat drops and everyone starts breaking out in dance. Different types of dance too! There’s women shaking their booty’s, there’s people on the floor moving their bodies like contortionists, the whole thing is just bizarre! At the end of the video, everyone does this epic group dance. Truthfully, the video was a lot to take in, and being the scholar that I am, I had to detect the meaning behind it all. I specifically aimed to focus on dance in the video because it seemed like such a major component. What do these different dances that I saw mean? Do they bear any cultural significance? To my pleasant surprise, I was able to find a super helpful article, written by a scholar, Peggy Harper, called Dance in Nigeria, which really guided me in my research on the cultural significance of Nigerian dance.
Before I could really delve into the article, I had to do some research on Olamide’s background as a Nigerian artist. It turns out that Olamide is apart of the Yoruba community in Nigeria, which means that most of his songs are recorded in the Yoruba tongue. Now from my African History through Film class with Dr. Sanchez, I am aware that Africa had civilizations, empires, and societies prior to colonization. Believe it or not, there were different cultures and languages before Europeans imposed their culture on everyone. All this information is so relevant when looking at Nigeria, Olamide’s origin. Nigeria has over 100 spoken languages! There is a vast amount of cultural diversity within this one country, which can be seen through the many different dances within Nigeria. What is so fascinating about this particular article is that Harper discusses a lot of these dances in relation to their cultural significance. We’re not going to get to all of them in this one blog, but we will definitely address some cool stuff that I found.
In Igbo Nigerian culture, dance is primarily used for educational purposes. Harper says that the Igbo people instill feelings of patriotism through their teaching of dance. Although we know Olamide is not Igbo, the group dance at the end of the video feels super patriotic. Everyone is dancing passionately in unison, which to me illustrates the power and the pride of Nigerian people. Maybe some of the different cultures in Nigeria are interconnected, which is something that we might want to take into account when analyzing this video. Igbo Nigerians also use dance to teach men discipline in warfare, to stress fertility, and to keep people physically fit in general. Harper also states that dance in Nigeria can be political and can stress leadership. For example, chiefs and elders of Nigerian society use dance to assert their authority over civilians. Their subjects demonstrate their devotion by breaking out in dance numbers. Since Olamide is Yoruba Nigerian, lets take a look at Yoruba dance.
Personally, I think the Yoruba’s dance traditions are the coolest. Harper says that the Western Yoruba in Nigeria do cult dances while wearing masks called Epa masks. Epa masks are often worn in fertility cults. First, the elders of the community select a few people to dress in elaborate costumes while wearing these carved/painted masks. These chosen few then dance through their villages to persuade witches to use their powers for good instead of bad. The masks are symbolic of the good things in life that stand against evil. Apparently, most of the dances in Yorubaland are either religious or ritualistic. This has me wondering whether or not the dances in Science Student have to do with a traditional Yoruba ritual. The video has a lot of references to the evils of Drug abuse so maybe dance in the video is symbolic of ridding these evils from the people who mix and abuse drugs. According to the article, a lot of people play on these traditional dances by modernizing them. Perhaps Olamide is modernizing these traditional dances in his video!
Here I’ve included a picture of a group of Yoruba people wearing traditional Epa masks. As you can see, they wear the wooden masks while being draped in elaborate outfits, much like the outfits the dancers are wearing in the Science Student video. Can you imagine people dancing around villages in this?! The attire looks so heavy! This picture is titled “Féticheurs Yoruba” and can be found on the Base Ulysse website!
I think the main takeaway from Harper’s article in relation to Science Student is that Nigeria is a culturally complex country where there are a multitude of cultures, religions, and dances. Although numerous European accounts of Africa do not recognize the cultural diversity of the continent, we can see how diverse Africa is just by looking at a single country! Can you imagine all of the other dances and traditions that exist within other countries in Africa that we haven’t even begun to uncover? Also, if you haven’t seen Olamide’s Science Student, it’s definitely a good watch.
Further Reading/Link to Video