On a dimly lit stage in Abidjan one member of the dance group lies motionless on the floor, legs splayed, while seven others dance around him in an intense hip-hop routine meant to warn about the dangers of drug use and gang violence in Ivory Coast.
The “Real Boys”, a male dance group based in Abidjan, was formed in 2014 but had to wait until this month for a breakthrough when they performed their show “Ghetto” at the Abidjan Market for Performing Arts (MASA), one of Africa’s oldest and biggest artistic showcase events.
Now the group hopes to take its mix of hip-hop, comedy and social messaging worldwide. Since MASA it has already received two offers to perform internationally and hopes to sign a contract soon, said founder Alexandre Wilfried Awa.
“We had never imagined the Real Boys at MASA. It must be said that it is the grace of god,” said Awa, who goes by the nickname “Speed Ivoire”.
MASA, founded in 1993, is a way for African artists to gain exposure and often leads to international contracts.
The Real Boys started small. Their original goal was to win local dance competitions with short choreographed routines.
Over time their vision became bigger, and they began working on longer pieces that might appeal to an international audience.
The group is made up of 10 men, aged 18 to 32.
“Our brand is comedy. We try to put comedy in the dance movements. We do hip-hop because the ‘coupe decale’ (a type of music and dance) is done everywhere in Ivory Coast, so to stand out from all these groups we use comedy and hip-hop,” said Awa.
But the dances also incorporate serious themes, and in one they use knives to highlight the dangers facing young people, he said. The inspiration for their show “Ghetto” came from observing people on the streets in their neighbourhoods and suburbs of Abidjan.
“In this show they transmit a very good message because at the present time in Africa young people are very much focused on alcohol and cigarettes and this is what is called basically the ghetto,” said Jean-Marc Kouassi, a member of the audience at Real Boys’ show at MASA. “Denouncing this behaviour, I think it’s a very good message for Africa.”