Black Affairs, Africa and Development


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(Or, how a song from South Africa conquered the world)

I was having a conversation with a friend and I said: “you really have chosen the wrong time to tell me that you don’t believe music is a ‘universal language’…” This year, one song surely gives a lie to that theory.

It seems apt, that a song released at the same time as the COVID-19 was being identified, has gone around the world to almost as many counties and been equally (if differently) infectious.

The song, ‘Jerusalema’ was released at around the same time Coronavirus was being discovered in China in December 2019. It is by South African artist Master KG and features the voice of Nomcebo Zikode. In early June, when I first proposed writing this story, the song had already racked up 27 million views on YouTube: So far, so catchy, I thought.

I had first become aware of it, when someone sent me a video of a four-men, two-women group of dancers from Angola (Fenomenos do Semba) did their video interpretation of the song, in which they seem to just be lounging around a courtyard, plates of food (and a pot!) in hand, eating and dancing to the song:

It is this dance video that has truly helped the song go truly viral: as I type this in August 2020, the original song has had 100 million views on YouTube and there have been well over 600 videos posted from around the world, of people doing their version of the dance moves (look for ‘Jerusalema challenge’), some, even copying the moves of Fenomenos, holding their plates of food (not forgetting the pot!). There are versions from most African counties, as well as France, Haiti, Belgium, Hungary, Poland, several from the USA, Sweden (doctors and nurses in a hospital corridor); Ghana (an army battalion doing the complete dance moves), Australia, Hawaii and loads more.

And, here’s the amazing thing, those doing their interpretations of the moves are of every race, sex and age group; it really has resonated with people.

Oh, as well as several Haitian ‘dance challenge’ versions, there are at least 3 versions in Haitian Creole. Speaking of versions; Nigerian superstar, Burna Boy, loved the song so much, he’s done a remix, which has itself garnered six million views, as I write this.

For many, it has proved to be the perfect antidote to the gloomy times we live in (COVID-19 restrictions and deaths; George Floyd’s killing and its aftermath).

When I got tired of counting the ‘tribute videos’, many of which have racked up tens of millions of views, I wrote to YouTube asking whether they could tell me how many such videos there were; they have not replied. This is not surprising as they probably have a team dedicated to uploading the latest ‘Jerusalema-related videos and they’re too busy to answer questions!

If there is a ‘world song of the year’, Jerusalema surely has no competition this year.

And, if you have not seen, heard or danced to it; welcome back from Mars!


Ade Daramy

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