Started by a group of young dancers in Angola, the ‘Jerusalema’ dance challenge is uniting the world in times of crisis
Jerusalema Ikhaya Lami / Ngilondol loze / Uhambe Nami/ zungangishiyi Lami (guard me, walk with me, do not leave me here)
If there’s one thing that the pandemic-hit world needs, it’s this song, ‘Jerusalema’. The astounding composition is by 24-year-old Master KG, a South Africa-based DJ and producer. Sung by Nomcebo Zikode, the Zulu number is unofficially labelled an ‘African Anthem’ and is now a global hit. The official music video was released at the end of 2019 on YouTube, and caught the fancy of the people at the beginning of 2020 and is now making waves beyond South Africa with the views crossing 158 million at the time of going to press.
The Gospel-influenced House fusion got elevated further when a dance challenge under the hashtag JerusalemaDanceChallenge was started by a group of young Angolans in February this year. The world erupted in a dance to the challenge and what followed was an unprecedented frenzy with healthcare staff in hospitals, prison officials, monks and nuns, Latino dancers, fire safety workers, lawyers, cops, school students across Africa, the US, UK, Europe, Russia and Australia participating in the challenge. The dance challenge got its endorsement when South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa while addressing the nation ahead of the Heritage Day, urged his countrymen to live up to the spirit of ‘Jerusalema’ challenge.
It all started with the dance group ‘Fenomenos do Semba’ in Angola releasing a video of their members dancing to ‘Jerusalema’, to celebrate their fifth anniversary in February this year. Their candid air while holding plates of food and dancing flawlessly in a modest neighbourhood struck a chord. The foot-tapping rhythm and the enticing yet simple steps became irresistible for dancers. Speaking to us from Luanda, Angola, dancer-choreographer Adilson Maiza from Fenomenos do Semba says, “We made the video as a joke and didn’t expect this worldwide success or the video to go viral.” Explaining the reason for holding the plates that’s become the signature of the dance, Adilson says, “We wanted to convey that we should be happy even with the little that life offers us, despite the difficulties we face every day. The important thing is to have health and be happy even with little food to eat and little water to drink.”
Dance for all
The dance, usually performed at weddings in South Africa has been tried and perfected by dance lovers across the globe. For those with two left feet, there are tutorials. Melbourne-based Zumba and fitness expert Keren Green is one among many who put up their tutorial videos of the dance on YouTube. Her video hit more than two million views in no time. “My father is from South Africa and my mother, from Israel, so I was interested in traditional African dance. I realised this might be of interest to people and an opportunity for me to help people to learn the steps correctly.” A single mother of two young children, Keren is wistful that she could not monetise her views on YouTube as the song she used is copyrighted. “But there’s so much positive feedback and responses from people, it’s beautiful and touching. And to reach people all across the world is humbling,” she adds.
Excited about their dance challenge crossing international boundaries, Adilson says, “Angola is rich culturally and dance is a part of our business but we cannot make it our career yet, I hope this can improve one day.”
Master KG had acknowledged this group’s role in taking ‘Jerusalema’ to the peak of its popularity. Did he get in touch with them? “Yes, he follows our group on Instagram and talks to us,” says Adilson.
Adilson couldn’t have expressed it better on behalf of the dancers when he says, “Dancing is our passion and our way of communicating. We have a dance step for every emotion — be it sorrow or joy, we express through the art of dance.”