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The Politics of Folk Dances

«Somos Sur» by Ana Tijoux [1], featuring Shadia Mansour [2], is an anti-colonialist statement of autonomy. To underline this, the video clip re-contextualizes two significant folk dances, which historically are linked to both socio-political identification and struggle. From the Norient book Seismographic Sounds (see and order here [3]).

Film still from Ana Tijoux & Shadia Mansour (Music) and Ana Tijoux (Video): «Somos Sur» (Chile/Great Britain 2014)

Tinku is a South American folk dance, which is an adaptation of an Andean ritual from the Bolivian region of Northern Potosí. The Quechua word «tinku» means encounter, and its ritualistic practice is obviously older than Spanish colonization. Accompanied by festive music and dance, one aim of this ritual is the corporal fight between members of different communities («ayllus»). Any blood shed during these violent hand-to-hand duels is considered a sacrifice for mother earth («Pachamama»). When translated from ritual to folk dance, the choreography became frontal directed. It operates with offensive and provocative dance steps, maintaining a cheerful and festive character.

Originated in a Peasant Social Practice

The Arabic «dabkeh» is shown mostly during Shadia Mansour’s part in the video. This folk dance is practiced largely in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan and is originally part of joyous social encounters, such as weddings. Male and female participants dance together in a round or a line holding hands or shoulders. As a synchronous performing whole, the dancers combine different jumping, stamping and kicking sequences. More specifically, the dabkeh also plays a major role in the construction of a national and political Palestinian identity, since it is declared a national dance. It therefore developed from a peasant social practice to a performative collective identification.

Film still from Ana Tijoux & Shadia Mansour (Music) and Ana Tijoux (Video): «Somos Sur» (Chile/Great Britain 2014)

Towards a Coherent Community of the Global South?

«Somos Sur» represents Arabic and South American communities identifying themselves through cultural practices of pre-colonial origin. The two folk dances tinku and dabkeh aim to highlight the insubordinate character of a heterogeneous but nonetheless coherent community of the global South. Social cohesiveness is staged through a joyful and combative manner. While Ana Tijoux and Shadia Mansour appeal to autonomy in their lyrics, a cheerful tinku and dabkeh dancing crowd visualizes the fighting spirit of their words.

Watching the video clip «Somos Sur,» the impression of a joyful and festive but also very confident and determined southern entity is given. However, is this video a pure and generic demand towards western societies for a more autonomous South? Does it more essentially voice the desire for the construction of a unitary political identity of the South? And if so, how does this reflect on the cultural heterogeneity of southern societies?

This text was published first in the second Norient book Seismographic Sounds [4].