What you need to know
Local dance bars in Tanzania beat every high-end nightspot in Taiwan and Asia.
For a small town where locals do not make much money, the small rural Tanzanian town of Iringa, where I reside, is surprisingly not devoid of nightlife spots.
Blaring into the town's dark main streets on Friday nights are the sounds of American hip-hop mixed with distinctive local Tanzanian pop music. Inside the makeshift shacks that are home to the music, joyfully dancing local live bands and DJs are joined on the dance floor by crowds of both locals and expats (usually white Americans or Europeans), grooving to tunes that are often not found in Western clubs dominated by electronic or house music.
The term "dance floor" here does not imply a special setup with step-up stages or bright lighting. They are concrete-floored open spaces right in front of the band and DJ. The wooden shack nightspots are restaurants that are open until late night and serve alcohol. They play music and clear out a space in their usual dense assortment of dining tables and chairs, allowing enthusiastic diners to let loose. Observing the alcohol-infused euphoria of the dancing crowd, it seems that keeping the place dark and the music loud more than makes up for the lack of sophisticated sound and light systems.
And that infusion of alcohol is made possible by the cheap prices, which are affordable even for the most economically disadvantaged.
The usual types and brands of hard liquor are available. Thanks to local bottling prices are cheap, but one doubts the quality. For instance, a bottle of vodka that can go for at least US$20 elsewhere can be bought for US$5 in the markets.
The beers, on the other hand, display the power of local production. Brands such as "Serengeti," "Safari," and "Kilimanjaro" line the fridges, and while the tastes are not particularly memorable, for the prices (as low as US$1 fot a big bottle) and sheer availability, they are perfectly adequate companions for a long night out with friends and colleagues.
Meanwhile, in Taiwanese dance clubs…
Every time I head out to the local dance bar in Iringa, I cannot help but be reminded of just how different they are from mega clubs in Asia, and particularly in Taiwan. During my half-year residence in Taipei in 2014, I had many opportunities to dance my way through the city’s major nightclubs. Taipei’s mega clubs could not be more different from the sights in Iringa.
The most obvious, of course, is the investment in physical infrastructure between the two. The kind of lighting and sound systems, the multi-floor capacity and massive LED screens, the sexy professional backup dancers and big-name international DJs are things that only exist in the wildest dreams, fuzzy imaginations, and watched YouTube videos of the Iringa party crowd.
But the biggest difference is mental, rather than physical.
The typical Iringa dance bar is all-inclusive, open and welcome to all. The cheap beers give a low barrier to entry for these nightspots. On Friday nights, people from all walks of life grab a beer and converge on the dance floor. My outing in the town's two most popular watering holes saw not just the usual array of young men and women, but also elite-looking middle-aged businessmen in suits, what appear to be gritty local shop-owners from down the street, and those who look like they are from the rural outskirts motor-biking their way into the town for some fun. It is a diverse set of people mixing on the dance floor, dancing with each other without the least bit of annoyance.
In Taiwan, and those parts of Asia where Western-style clubbing has taken root, such inclusiveness is not only non-existent, but implicitly discouraged.
Dance clubs are, first and foremost, venues for beautiful, stylish young things to be seen. Clubs send photographers into the dance floor, capturing the crème-de-la-crème in pictures to be posted on their official webpages. The message is clear: only come if you are physically attractive.
It is not at all surprising that clubbing in Taiwan has taken on a sometime-not-so-subtle sexual implication, in ways that the Iringa crowd will find incomprehensible. It is not rare to find clubbers stumbling around in drunken haze after copious consumption of expensive liquor on expensively reserved floor-side seats. Bystanders often cannot help but “help themselves to” a bit of inappropriate interaction with people who are not conscious enough to say no.
Such concerns are minimal in African dance bars.
People dance purely because they love to dance, and that job does not stem from alcohol or the prospect of meeting beautiful people. There is no need, and indeed, no time, to drink excessively or participate in sexual misconduct.
It is unfortunate that foreigners are ruining the innocence of African dance bars. In the more popular tourist areas in Africa, nightspots have become corrupted to the point that they exist primarily to target foreigners with money, especially for girls providing "special services" after dancing. But even in those establishments, there are plenty of people letting it loose spontaneously with no ulterior motives.
If anything, when it comes to dancing, Asians have plenty to learn from Africa.
Modern-day Western hip-hop and dance music has original roots in African traditional music brought by the earliest Africans crossing to the Americas involuntarily. The fact that they have been modified in the West over the course of centuries and have only been brought to Asia in the last few decades imply just how little Asians know about dancing to music. Asian belief that dance music comes from the West, and thus come with Western concepts of social liberalism, ignores its origins in Africa, where people have been happily dancing away for millennia.
Even today, nightspots in Asia cannot possibly rival the inclusiveness that one would see here in rural Africa. Ultimately, the fashion, the music, the alcohol are not what set a good club from a bad one, but the energy and enjoyment of the club-goers. And in this, these little establishments in Iringa have beaten every high-end nightspot in Taiwan and Asia.
The News Lens International has been authorized to repost this article. The piece was first published on the author's blog.