Tanzanian-born Aakash Phulwani is using dance to change the perspectives the world has about African culture.
Every time you enter an AfroDesi workshop, run by entrepreneur Aakash Phulwani, people from diverse backgrounds are learning both contemporary African and Bollywood dance styles using custom-made mixes of songs from both sides. When it was first started by Phulwani and his two friends in New York, it grew in popularity and is now also a platform for Africa-based dancers.
Raised in Tanzania, when Phulwani first went to university in the United States, it seemed like no one really knew much about Africa. There wasn’t much happening on campus to promote African culture either. He wanted to change that perspective somehow and used dance, which he is very passionate about, as a means to do so. People from different backgrounds started joining the dance troupe he founded.
He knew there was more potential for his art. When he graduated, he teamed up with his friends, who had Bollywood dance backgrounds, to create a fusion of both Indian and African styles and offered classes to those keen. That’s when AfroDesi was born.
“After our first video went out, a lot of people in New York saw it and really liked it… after that, with every class, we just kept getting more and more attention… people really appreciated that. So, it was just something really fresh no one else had ever done,” says Phulwani.
But he quickly realized AfroDesi was mostly only attracting a South Asian crowd. There was the fear of appropriation and not being able to maintain the authenticity of the movement. Being able to attract and gain acceptance from an African crowd is a daily endeavor for the group, which they also translate on social media.
“We try to bring many different cultures to the same space… to try bridge that gap.”
The new genre is attempting to dispel the myths about Africa, and helping bring two dance communities together, gathering thousands of followers on social media along the way. Phulwani has conducted workshops across the US, and also in Dubai, Kenya and Tanzania, and has just moved to London, where he plans to expand the brand.
He acknowledges his privileges though, as a professional working in consulting, and whose full-time job is not dance.
AfroDesi wants to help artists from Africa have access to the platform.
For example, when in Tanzania recently, Phulwani helped out a group called The Rabbit Dancing Crew. “So the hardest part is for them to even make it like financially… we want to help them… promote them as much as we can… any proceedings that I got last year for my workshops, I made sure I give it to the team.”
He wants to help local creatives find bookings and travel across the globe to share their talent. “We tell students in our class that we are not Afro professional dance teachers… we are just inspired by so many creatives back in Africa.”
By Inaara Gangji