The Renaissance of Bata Dance.

The Renaissance of Bata Dance.

 Bata dance style renaissance…

 BATA: Does the SALSA Dance contravene Copyrights of the Yoruba people’s folk dance?

The broad spectrum of cultural identities of place differs in more ways than one. This dichotomy in origins is brought about by environmental, sociological and historical factors encompassing the nature of a geographical location at a particular period of time. Over time, there has been a ménage of influences from place to place. The paradigm shifts were largely caused by externalities such as inquest and conquest missions by more sophisticated nations.

By the end of the 11th century, interactions between erstwhile settlements now known as continents and countries (as the case maybe) introduced religions and foreign civilizations through subtle means or by arms of war. The advent of slave trade and colonization in the 17th, 18th and 19th century respectively across Europe and Asia spreading to Africa and the rest of world was the last straw. This brought about a bizarre trading of humans to gain economic power which changed completely the theory of humanity as well as distorting the beliefs of the captured.


Largely affected by slavery and colonization is the general artistic outlook of the African people. As it was with a number of things, the arts of the conquered territories were displaced, carted away or utterly destroyed by the colonizing group. This stance is synonymous with the prey-predators’ relationship. These arts are transformed and re-assigned as a different genre without recourse to the original owners of the sounds, histories, beats, and sculpture. This singular action then contravenes the remarkable means by which things of immense value are passed on from one generation to another. Losing the significance of the generational traits and the sacredness thereof. The imports of this haunting apparition of the African forms the basis of this piece.

For a more concise readership, the focus will be on Bata Dance style. Bata Dance style is a traditional dance peculiar to the Yoruba people of the South-western part of the Nigeria. Historically, the dance is believed to be attributed to ‘’Sango’’ – Yoruba god of Thunder and Lightning. The Bata dance is an expressive art not just imbued with rhythm and movements but avowed spirituality. In olden times, the dance is said to be a form of communication between the god of Thunder (Sango) and the devout of the Sango religion as evidenced by the characteristic bodily movement (hands, feet and shoulders jerk). The energy that drives the performer is attended by thunderous drumbeats blasting with the thunderous Bata drum sounds which altogether pays homage to ‘’Sango’’, the fire connoisseur.

Reminiscent of the precedence, Bata Dance style still hold same sense of vigor as seen in the very creative waist twisting, bent knees, flat foot, tilting of trunk, acrobats and powerful performance of the dance. The Bata Dance is accompanied by Bata drums/music – the largest drums’ family is ‘’Iya Ilu’’ (Eejin) which set tune for other drums such as ‘’Atele’’, Omele Ako, and Omele Abo. The contention of Bata dance as the origin of Salsa dance is connected with the trans-Atlantic slavery that necessitated the transportation of slaves from the South-western part (as well as other places) to the Americas.

According to scholars of African arts, not a few number of these dances have been transported in the course of the slave trade era. The remnant of these displaced arts in areas of music and dance metamorphosed into modern genres such as Blues, Jazz, Calypso, Reggae, Salsa, Rumba and Hip-hop respectively.


By inference, the cultural influences of these Yoruba slaves informed Salsa. According to contemporary studies, the history of the Salsa dance is contentious. Some studies show that Salsa (or sauce) started in the mid-1800s. Another school of thought claims Salsa dance to be based on a melodious shout by Latin American musicians during performance while others believe Salsa to be branding gimmick deployed by Latin American record label owners in New York to increase their turnover. Others concluded that Salsa is a fusion of different music styles. Generally, the Salsa dance is of Afro-Cuban origin which integrates the moves, instrumentation, style of Bata dance, albeit in a slightly different form.

In a recent lawsuit no: FCT/CC/PYS/CIV/01/2021 filed by the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association Nigeria (IPLAN) at the Customary Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the association demanded for the declaration of Bata dance as the root source of Salsa Dance. If the assertion that the Afro-Cuban population originated from the Yoruba speaking part still sharing certain cultural beliefs such as the worship of ‘’Yemaja’’, ‘’Shango’’ etc. then the argument by IPLAN might be in a good direction. But then, what is the copyright basis of the Bata dance in this situation?

For a creative work to be copyrighted, it must fulfill these basic requirements: Fixation, Originality and Expression. Fixation means that such works must be fixed in a tangible medium of expression from which it can be ‘’perceived, reproduced and communicated’’. According to Section 2(b) of the Nigerian Copyright Act: ‘’A literary, musical or artistic work shall not be eligible for copyright unless-

(b) the work has been fixed in any definite medium of expression now known or later to be developed, from which it can be perceived, reproduced or otherwise communicated either directly or with the aid of machine or any device.’’ Simply put, for any work to be copyrighted, it must be accessible.

Originality requirements of Copyright suggests that the work to be created must be the original creation of the author. Under the Nigerian Copyright Act interpretation of Originality, the concept of ‘’Sweat of the Brow’’ comes to mind which literally means that sufficient efforts must be put in the work to make it original. This is buttressed by Section 2(a) of the Copyright Act, ‘’A literary work shall not be eligible for copyright unless – (a) sufficient effort has been expended on making the work to give it an original character’’.

Under the ‘’Expression’’ requirement, ideas or facts are not protected under copyright. Such creative works must be created either in writing, recording, documentation and performed.

In the litigation filed by the Intellectual Property Lawyers Association Nigeria (IPLAN), it is crystal clear that the Bata dance legally falls under ‘’folklore’’ provisions of the Nigerian Copyright Act. Since the Bata dance is an ancient intellectual heritage of the Yoruba which symbolizes the rich cultural essence of the Yoruba people. In Section 28(1)(a)(b)(c): ‘’Expressions of folklore are protected against –

(a) reproduction

(b) communication to the public by performance, broadcasting, distribution by cable or other means

(c) adaptation, translation and other transformations,

When such expressions are made either for commercial purposes or outside their traditional or customary context’’.


The Lead Counsel of the Association, Mr. Folarin Aluko of Trumann Rockwood Solicitors insisted that ‘’traditional knowledge is recognized as a specie of Intellectual Property unique to each and every civilization’’. The suit highpoints the positive impact and intellectual property of the 7 Bata dance variations as a cultural asset of Yoruba People of Western Nigeria.

Arguing, Mr. Aluko affirms Salsa to be of Yoruba origins. According to him, ‘’as the world becomes a global village, there is an increasing need to protect our cultural heritage from exploitation and appropriation’’.

In Section 28(5)(c) of the Nigerian Copyright Act: ‘’For the purpose of this section, ‘’Folklore’’ means a group-oriented and tradition-based creation of groups or individuals reflecting the expectation of the community as an inadequate expression of its cultural and social identity, its standards and values as transmitted orally, by imitation or by other means including –  folk dances and folk plays’’. This portion of the Copyright Act therefore presents Aluko’s standpoint as tenable in the scenario. The legal luminary assert that there was expedient to ‘’protecting our cultural heritage from exploitation and appropriation’’.

But then, the submission of the court in determining the Bata dance as the origin of the Salsa dance is not rocket science. One can argue that the resemblances of Bata (which comes before) and the Salsa dance is a good basis to argue in favour of Bata dance. Inasmuch as Section 28(5): ‘’For the purpose of this section, ‘’Folklore’’ means a group-oriented and tradition-based creation of groups or individuals reflecting the expectation of the community as an inadequate expression of its cultural and social identity, its standards and values as transmitted orally, by imitation or by other means including…. presents a legal backing, there is need to also consider other areas in proving in the affirmative or negative.

That is not to say that the Bata dance has not be diversified into different styles. For instance, Seun Awobajo (Nigerian-born theatre expert, choreographer, playwright, multitalented Nigerian Artist, young stage writer and theatre Director, a choreographer, an African traditional dance instructor and Music composer, percussionist and a performance Artist and director) started a variant of the Bata traditional dance series: ‘’Bata Wajo’’. The tutorial class started in Germany in the year 2018. It is a Bata dance technique that breaks down into module. Designed for budding dancers, ‘’Bata Wajo’’ borrows from the seven known variations to create an impeccable online audience across the globe.

A Legendary dancer, Chief Peter Badejo (OBE) first did a variant of the Bata dance called ‘’Bata Bade Notation’’. These various derivative works of the Bata dance align with the Fair Use doctrine. The Fair Use doctrine permits a degree of access to copyright material without having to first acquire permission from the copyright holder. In Second Schedule of the Nigerian Copyright Act subsection b states: ‘’The rights conferred in respect of a work by Section 5 of this Act does not include the rights to control –

(b) the doing of any of the aforesaid acts by way of parody, pastiche, or caricature;

In conclusion, the concept of Bata dance as the origin of Salsa dance is defined by the similarities of the rhythmic pattern and body movements. This can be traced to the days of slave trade, return of some of the freed slaves to their native lands and/or settling of some slaves in Latin American locations; the close-knitted bond between the Caribbean and West African countries (especially the Yoruba race).

Seun Awobajo

Founder; Footprints of David Art Foundation.

Creator; Bata Wajo dance Technique.


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