24 November 2018

Nigeria: Kupe Boys and the True Origin of the #KupeChallenge

There has arguably never been a time in pop culture when it has been so easy to become so popular for doing so little. Being the star of a short video clip that goes viral, riding the wave of a popular dance challenge for a song you didn't even sing, social media presents anyone with as little as a glimmer of talent with a shot at their own 15 minutes of fame.

A group of four strapping young men are the latest overnight celebrities given birth to by social media. Based in France, the quartet of Teddy Ovo, Habitu Etoi, Jim Seuh and Yoyo, broke the African internet last month with their sizzling entry to the #KupeChallenge. The four men were fundamental in morphing an online dance competition into an invitation for groups to post synchronized, low-level thirst traps on the internet. The trendy moment became an opportunity for both men and women to come together and showcase their good looks while trying out only the easiest parts of a rather complicated dance move.

But no one looked better than the Kupe Boys. Theirs was just one entry among thousands, but a combination of the foursome's sex appeal and smooth choreography set it apart. Within a short time, the Kupe Boys became the object of affection for many women, and men for that matter, across the continent.

The quartet has maximized their newfound fame. Teddy, Habitu and Jim are fitness coaches with varying degrees of allergies to wearing clothes. Even though they had already developed a following individually, it is improbable that the three of them ever had this much free publicity to promote their work. Also, the more familiar their faces and muscles became, the more people wanted to see them. So, the Kupe Boys began taking bookings to perform. Arguably their biggest booking has come from Nigeria. Three out of the four boys jetted to Abuja and Lagos last weekend. It's indeed ironic that the Kupe Boys were booked to perform a dance they didn't create to a song they didn't help record.

When the Kupe Boy's performance in Nigeria was first announced, the reaction was understandably mixed. While many salivated at the prospect of being in the same room with the guys, others asked what else the one-trick ponies could possibly do to keep an actual, non-internet audience entertained. The answer was nothing, absolutely nothing. But that didn't stop the Kupe Boy's outing in Nigeria from being reasonably successful, arguably an even greater success in the country than the dance move and the song that inspired the four men.

Even though the Kupe Boys helped to popularize it, the #KupeChallenge was actually started by a dance instructor from Ghana called Incredible Zigi. In its simplest form, the dance begins with a front-to-side, tip-top motion, combined with a clap forward and a one-handed peace sign. The rest of the dance incorporates rigorous shoulder and hip movements.

After creating the move, Zigi reached out to a Ghanaian artist based in London called A-Star to create the official soundtrack for it. The result was "Kupe Dance". And it was A-Star's new song that played in the background as the Kupe Boys recorded their unexpected viral moment. Both A-Star and Incredible Zigi were integral to the birth of the dance movement.

Zigi, in particular, is having a 2018 to remember. The dance artist has created not one, but two dance challenges that have gone viral this year. "Kupe" is the most recent but Zigi also birthed "Pilolo". Both dance moves have taken over the streets of Ghana and beyond -- well beyond. During her much talked about comeback performance on Jimmy Fallon in August, the legendary Janet Jackson shocked the continent by performing both the "Pilolo" and the "Kupe.

"Pilolo" is the name of a popular outdoor game in Ghana, akin to hide-and-seek. Zigi explains that he came up with the dance while rehearsing to shoot a dance video for another dance. Also inspired by his surroundings, Zigi has an equally fascinating story about the origin of his latest dance move "Kupe". According to him: "'Kupe' is a popular saying on the streets of Ghana to 'warn' or threaten someone. So I came up with the Kupe dance step by clapping -- to alert or get someone's attention -- and, then show the peace sign -- to promote peace in society."

Incredible Zigi has now created two monsters. But sadly, he has been unable control either of them. With the impact of "Pilolo" fading, the artist will no doubt be hoping that the #KupeChallenge song and dance can still catapult his career, in the same way it has the Kupe Boys. A sensible approach might be for both originator and 'popularizer' to come together and create an extension to the #KupeChallenge, before one or the other's 15 minutes are up.

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