Jerusalema, how one song united millions around the world

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Before Noncebo Zikode sat in a studio to record the hit song Jerusalema with producer Master KG, it is hard to believe she almost lost hope on coming up with lyrics to the beat presented to her. Thankfully with some determination and little push of encouragement from the producer, they got to work and one of the biggest hits to ever come out of South Africa was created.

Jerusalema was released in South Africa in November 2019 and became an overnight sensation. At the time, little did people know that during 2020 when the world would be under lockdown due to the pandemic, the hit song would become even bigger. As it swept the world through the aid of social media channels including YouTube, Twitter and Instagram, people took a huge liking to the song.

Dance challenges started taking form after a couple of Angolan friends choreographed dance moves to the hit song and posted a video on YouTube. In South Africa groups of friends would rehearse the dance moves and perhaps find clothing deals from pep-stores specials to look the part. Others designed their own clothes or brought out their best outfits for the performance.  They would go on to post their videos on social media further fuelling the song’s popularity.

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Not only were friends and family members participating in the challenge, but organisations, both large and small joined in on the fun. Nurses and doctors performed their own versions of Jerusalema. Romanian fire fighters, French health workers and nuns joined in on the action too. Cyril Ramaphosa further endorsed the song and dance challenge by encouraging people to come together through it in light of the Covid pandemic.

Jerusalema is uniquely South African. Other brands synonymous with SA include Pep Stores and Nando’s. As with these brands South Africa naturally embraced the hit song, which was set to go viral, as their very own.

Globally, the language barrier was overcome as the rhythm of the song spoke to nations worldwide with the only common word being Jerusalema.  The lyrics, Jerusalema ikahya lami, ngilondoloze. Zungangishiyi lana meaning Jerusalema my home, rescue me, join me, don’t leave me brought hope to people during the world’s most difficult time.  Scores of people all over resonated with the gospel message.  The rhythm, beat, message and ease of the dance moves managed to bring people together and continues to do so.

In September 2020 Jerusalema was the most Shazamed song in the world. It currently has a whooping 271 million views on YouTube. Jerusalema being a song in a language spoken by 10 million people managed to touch hundreds of millions, if not more, around the world. If there was ever any doubt that music can be a symbol of unity and love, Jerusalema has cast all that doubt away.

Afro music is on the rise and is fast gaining popularity. Jerusalema has definitely brought massive attention to music that comes out of Africa. Years ago, it was extremely rare to see African music gaining as much popularity as Jerusalema has.

How did Jerusalema unite the world? At a time when people were being asked to self-isolate and stay away from their loved ones due to the pandemic, people needed a way to reconnect with others. Living rooms became dance floors and back gardens turned into stages. People danced to come together in solidarity while at the same time being far apart.

Humanity thrives when we are together and when we can’t be, we find ways to make it happen. Jerusalema was one way to encourage each other through music. Jerusalema’s message to the world was and is to look at the brighter side of life regardless of the circumstances.  And while you are at it, dance.

One day we'll look back and say Jerusalema; the song that brought us together and saw us through a difficult time.


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