Showing posts with label Wilson Pickett. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wilson Pickett. Show all posts

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Watusi

The name of the early Sixties popular dance called the “watusi” is obviously African (for instructions on how to dance it, go here), and while there was a film released in 1959 titled Watusi (a remake of King Solomon’s Mines [1950]), the name was widely popularized in America in 1962. In June 1962, a United Nations General Assembly resolution terminated the Belgian trusteeship of Rwanda (then spelled Ruanda), and granted full independence both to Rwanda and Burundi effective 1 July, 1962, to be governed by Tutsi (Batutsi) leadership. Hearing the name in early 1962 and liking the sound of it, Kal Mann, a songwriter at Cameo-Parkway Records, subsequently wrote “The Wah-Watusi,” eventually recorded by The Orlons, a vocal quartet from Philadelphia. “The Wah-Watusi” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on 9 June 1962 and remained on the Hot 100 chart for over three months. That same year, Chris Kenner recorded perhaps his most famous hit, “Land of 1000 Dances,” containing the lyric, “Do the watusi like my little Lucy.” “Land of 1000 Dances” was later covered by Cannibal & the Headhunters (1965), Wilson Pickett (1966), and Patti Smith (1975). Wilson Pickett’s version is perhaps the most well-known of the many versions of the song recorded over the years.

And while the dance known as the watusi sustained its popularity at least through 1962, the next year Puerto Rico jazz musician Ray Barretto’s recording titled “El Watusi” debuted on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on 27 April 1963 (in other words, about a year after “The Wah-Watusi”) and remained on the Hot 100 chart for over two months. Apparently filmmaker Martin Scorsese was a fan of “El Watusi,” as he included it on the soundtrack to his film Who’s That Knocking at My Door (1967). Later, Brian De Palma used Barretto’s “El Watusi” in Carlito’s Way (1993). Meanwhile, the watusi—although by then the dance craze had long faded away—appears in the Sidney Poitier-starring film The Slender Thread (released December 1965), and two years later, having transformed into a signifier no longer referring simply to a form of benign dance, but to the possibility of miscengenation, the watusi is invoked in another Sidney Poitier-starring film, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967), in which Poitier tells Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn, “You folks dance the watusi; we are the watusi.”

Suggested Reading:
Garza, Oscar. 2005. “Land of a Thousand Dances: An R&B Fable.” Popular Music 24.3: 429-437.

Chris Kenner, “Land of 1000 Dances” Land of 1000 Dances (Collector’s Choice)
Cannibal & the Headhunters, “Land of 1000 Dances”
Land of 1000 Dances: The Complete Rampart Recordings (Varese Fontana)
Wilson Pickett, “Land of 1000 Dances”
Wilson Pickett’s Greatest Hits (Atlantic/WEA)
Patti Smith, “Land”
Horses (Arista)
Mud Boy & the Neutrons, “Land of 1000 Shotguns (Part 2)”
They Walk Among Us (Koch)
The Orlons, “The Wah-Watusi”
The Best of the Orlons Cameo Parkway 1961-1966 (Abkco)
The Ventures, “The Wah-Watusi”
Mashed Potatoes and Gravy/Going to the Ventures Dance Party (One Way)