When refugees from Africa’s conflicted Great Lakes region seek peace in Malawi’s Dzaleka Refugee Camp in Dowa, they often find that they cannot leave, an intro of UK’s The Guardian’s, Graters and guitars: making a living in Malawi’s refugee prison reads.
This opening statement rings true for many as Dzaleka has become a “permanent” refugee camp.
So out of boredom and to escape the daily challenges of the confined life in a refugee camp, six young boys came up with an idea that will define their lives forever.
In 2014, the six formed an all-boy dance group Forus Dance Crew to while away, little did they know it will lead them to stardom.
Forus is made up of lads mostly from Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The group comprises Ally Bull, 21, Toussaint Kid, 21, Princo BJR, 19, Allan Bulldor Bonane, 21, Grace Marmu, 20 and dance leader Nellson Deogratias, who is 18.
The name Forus is an acronym for force, united and success.
The crew’s dance moves that combine, thumping of the foot, acrobatic moves and rhythmic twisting of the body to the sound of music and dramatisation have been described by many as unique, fresh “and something they have never seen before”.
The group is an overnight sensation and a toast of town due to the unique dance routines.
Its growing popularity and profile of the dance means local artists cannot afford to ignore Forus.
“Their broadening visibility on the entertainment scene reckons that they are a class apart, bringing on the table something that has never been seen before,” one local artist says.
In the limelight
So far, their dance moves have seen them perform during high profile events at Malawi’s largest entertainment Mecca, the Bingu International Conference Centre (Bicc). And their happy feet, have taken them to work with some of the most reputable musical names in the country.
They have featured in music videos of Hazel Mak’s Jaiva, Zimatele, Malawi and Sitigonja by Zathu Band, Gwamba’s work on Dan featuring Emm Q, Musiye by Dan Lu, Janta’s Wangongole, YDKM by VJ Ice and Titaketake by Sangie.
Forus Dance Crew also caught public eye when they entertained fans during the Lake of Stars (LoS) set it off event in Zomba. They have curtain-raised Ugandan comedian Anne Kansiime’s show during her second visit to Malawi.
The group lit up Tumaini festival, Zathu Band launch, Fusion festival, Gwamba’s Jesus is my boss album launch, Ufulu festival, among others high profile shows.
“We noted that amongst us we share a common passion which is dancing,” band leader Deogratias explains. “The kind of life here in the camp is not the most ideal. Ninety-seven percent of youth here are taking different type of drugs and many are at the centre of many criminal activities.
“We realised that there is a way we can utilise the power of our passion to a positive effect. We did not want to end up like most of our peers so we thought of forming this dance crew to keep ourselves busy and also offer entertainment to people.”
Art for a living
Members of Forus have been in the refugee camp for over five year now.
The six have managed to complete their secondary school education and are currently involved doing artworks away from dancing.
The group is using their skill and prominence to good use by aiding in countering the moral decadence issue among the youth in the camp.
Deogratias says they have set up a dancing clinic which at the moment is training 30 young people the art of dancing.
“The environment we live in here in the camp does little to help the youth to stay on the straight and narrow. As a result we have a high number of youth who are part of theft gangs, a lot teen pregnancies and even more on drugs.
“We want to use dancing to take them away from such preoccupations that will in the end diminish their productivity as young people and cause irreversible damage to their lives. This is our little contribution in trying to make our stay here in the camp worthwhile,” he says.
Deogratias explains that given adequate resource support, it is the groups dream to share their talent with as many people as possible, not just through their stage antics, but imparting their skills to a larger community.
“If somebody could come in to assist us we would love to open a dance studio in town where people would come for dance lessons,” he said.
The group has this year been signed up by organisers of the Lake of Stars International Art Festival and are expected to brush shoulders with some globally recognised acts in Salima come September this year.
Lake of Stars local organising team spokesperson Zilanie Gondwe said she worked with the Dzaleka-based dancers under the Zathu Pawailesi project and was impressed with their energetic and exciting dancing moves as they “provide a good spectacle during events”.
She said creative arts like dancing are not fully acknowledged and respected in Malawi as an important part of citizen development and nation building.
“Yet dancing builds self-esteem and good health. It engages the brain and expresses creativity. This group is a top example of a disciplined cohesive unit that works as a team to make entertaining art.
“Dancing is team work. And we need more interventions that brings the youth together in a way that appeals to them. Art adds value to our social and community life. Without art we are naked,” Gondwe said.