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For Liberian Youth, A Creative Outlet In Krumping

Franklyn Dunbar, 17, practices krumping with his crew at his mother's house in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, Liberia. Dunbar was born in New York, but moved to his home country of Liberia seven years ago.
Tamasin Ford
Franklyn Dunbar, 17, practices krumping with his crew at his mother's house in Paynesville, a suburb of Monrovia, Liberia. Dunbar was born in New York, but moved to his home country of Liberia seven years ago.

The music starts up, masking the blare of the generator needed to power the stereo. The dancers begin, and almost like a relay, they take turns showing their moves. Their bodies shake and contort to the beat. Their eyes are fixed in a stare with a fierce look of anger as they lose themselves in the music.

"For me, when I'm krumping like if I'm mad about something, or like I'm not feeling easy, it takes a lot of stress out," says 17-year-old Franklyn Dunbar. "It really drains out all the anger or any personal problem you have."

Krumping is a form of dance that originated in California and — with the help of DVDs and the Internet — has made its way to Dunbar and other kids in the West African nation of Liberia. Founded by freed American slaves, the country embraces all things American.

Born in New York, Dunbar moved back to his home country of Liberia seven years ago with his mother. Dunbar, who now lives in a suburb of Monrovia, the Liberian capital, didn't start krumping until then.

"If some of my friends saw me dancing in the States right now, they would be like 'Wow,' " he says. "When I was in America I would always want to dance. I would be in my ma's room doing flips on my bed and stuff like that, but I was always shy. I basically learned how to dance in Liberia."

The moves involve intense, aggressive footsteps, chest thumps and wild arm waves. It's a more frenetic derivative of hip-hop dancing, and developed in the churches and gang communities of Los Angeles.

Now, krumping is sweeping across schools in Liberia. American culture is ingrained in every aspect of life in the country — from the political system down to music and even the accent. So, if top American artists are krumping, it's what Liberian kids want to be doing, too.

"Once it's a music video and it's on TV, you have artists like Chris Brown and other artists that they can relate to that are doing it, so they see it as this is a dance for our time," says Cypha D'King, a presenter at Hott FM, a popular music station in Monrovia. "It's a new thing, a new trend, so kids have got to follow the new trends."

Members of the dance crew Phoenix Nights say they dance wherever they can. There's even a place in the heart of Monrovia that hosts official dance battles. The president of Phoenix Nights, 21-year-old Abraham Vahn, says it wasn't really popular just a few years ago.

"But starting from 2010 ... if you go to any county, people are talking about krumping," Vahn says.

Last year, the country's first ever krump dance battle took place at the national stadium. It was organized by African Prodigies, a small nongovernmental organization promoting dance and culture in Liberia that was set up by Franklyn's mom, Nowai Dunbar. More than 2,500 teenagers turned up for the event.

"These kids, after the war, really don't have anything," Nowai Dunbar says. "We have a lot of creative children in our country; it's just that we're not taking advantage of that."

This is the first generation of Liberians who didn't lose their teenage years in the civil war. More than a quarter of a million people were killed in the 14 years of fighting that ended in 2003.

Last month, recommendations were put forward to Liberia's president to establish a National Arts Council, as well as ideas to introduce music, art and theater into schools. For Dunbar, Vahn and the rest of Phoenix Nights, they say something needs to be done to harness the country's talent.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tamasin Ford
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