Jerusalema inspires new confidence in a nation broken by Covid-19
By Marlan Padayachee
Durban – Not since that famous Sunday in 1990 when a high-fisted Nelson Mandela waltzed onto freedom road, or Shakira’s “Waka Waka” gave us a wave of a ball in 2010, has our dancing democracy stolen the march on a world flat-footed by Covid-19 pandemic.
During the darkest hour of the country’s coronavirus campaign, it took a presidential dance decree to get South Africans back on their feet again – literally dancing to the beat of a new African rhythm.
President Cyril Ramaphosa declared “Jerusalema” the official theme song for Heritage Day. The head of state not only got his 55 million citizens back to work after a hard Covid-19 lockdown, he got the whole nation dancing right out of the blues of a deadly pandemic that has put the country’s economy on the back burner for six months.
When the billionaire businessman-turned-president gave “Jerusalema” the seal of presidential approval, Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode’s home-brewed hit song and line-dancing routine – currently burning up the charts – got a racially divided and frustrated nation back on the dance floor – again.
As the song broke the gatekeeper’s sound barriers – largely via the power of social media – the world has been dancing to its vibrant rhythm. Now, a global Covid-19 theme, it has inspired a dance challenge that has taken social media by storm, courtesy of YouTube.
From the beaches of Cape Verde to Cape Town to Cape Fear, they are still jigging and jiving and posting videos of themselves and others getting into the groove of these magical moments via Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter and TikTok.
‘’The world is dancing together during the coronavirus pandemic,’’ scribbled a user from Tanzania’s Jamaican compound.
“Jerusalema” was riding the crest of its wave until Pretoria’s Mahlamba Ndlopfu threw down the Jerusalema Dance Challenge gauntlet.
Since addressing the nation with the good news that the government had dialled down the alert level to lockdown 1, the chart-topping song and dance has inspired a new global theme and provided a dose of comic relief for a world battling the pandemic and its consequences.
“Jerusalema” is on the lips of billions of people worldwide – a cross-cultural explosion that has taken populations by storm, from remote, sandy beaches along the Indian Ocean Rim to the pavements of Pretoria, Paris and Portugal.
Not everyone can get a president’s attention quite like this. The song had Ramaphosa – under pressure after a six-month siege – jiving to the African beat of “Jerusalema” in the corridors of power at the Union Buildings.
Surprisingly, Ramaphosa concluded his sixth televised address ahead of Heritage Day: ‘’I urge everyone to use this public holiday as family time, to reflect on the difficult journey we have all travelled, to remember those who have lost their lives, and to quietly rejoice in the remarkable and diverse heritage of our nation.
‘’And there can be no better celebration of our South African-ness than joining the global phenomenon that is the ’Jerusalema’ dance challenge on Heritage Day and showing the world what we are capable of.
“Fellow South Africans – I urge you to do the ’Jerusalema’ dance challenge. I love this song.’’
Social media went into overdrive, with Ramaphosa side-stepping singer Janet Jackson and footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, among the celebrities getting into the craze.
Bean-counting Finance Minister Tito Mboweni demonstrated his dance moves, but was no competition for the straight-shooting Buffalo Soldier who was a hard act to follow.
Jerusalema chalked up 137 million hits on YouTube, making SA the world’s no 1 hit-maker and most Shazamed song.
Remember SA’s 2010 World Cup soccer adage – embellished by Shakira’s theme song, “Waka Waka” – ‘’it ain’t over till the fat lady sings’’: WhatsApp burst on to the social media stage with a burly Indian woman dressed in a shocking-pink sari and blouse strutting her stuff, apparently to the beat of “Jerusalema” in a televised “India’s Got Talent”.
Closer to home, prisoners, priests and pilots picked up the presidential gauntlet and jived to a post-modern routine of cha-cha-cha, rhumba or a social distancing “lang arm”.
Fathima Khan of Focus Air got her trainee pilots and cadets doing the dancing drill on the tarmac at Durban’s Virginia Airport.
This inspirational anthem could help breathe new confidence into tackling the calamity of a pandemic that has shattered a fragile economy.
The title is borrowed from one of the world’s oldest cities – Jerusalem – the new and old city – that showcases the living legacy of the Abrahamic troika of religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The opening lines of the lyrics go like this: ‘’Jerusalema ikhaya lami – Jerusalema is my home’’.
Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode’s song has not only made them overnight superstars, but this dancing duo could be in line for a double gold award of the Order of Ikhamanga from the Presidency.
This evocative song and dance is transcending boundaries.
With Heritage Day now history, many of us should start learning the lyrics of a song that epitomises Simon & Garfunkel’s “Homeward Bound”.
Twenty-six years ago, at the dawn of democracy, we all sang from the same hymn sheet – Shosholoza (Stimela Sipumé South Africa) that was borrowed from an Ndebele folk song from Zimbabwe when migrant miners bellowed the tune from the bowels of apartheid-colonial’s gold, diamond and platinum reserves.
This popular people’s song was immortalised by the a cappella soundtrack of Clint Eastwood’s narration of our politics of rugby, “Invictus”.
Before “Shosholoza”, exiled trumpeter Hugh Masekela blew the blue notes of “Stimela”, a haunting sound of the migration of miners by train. Exiled Miriam Makeba partnered American civil rights-singer legend Harry Belafonte, and gave great hope to lonely exiles and émigrés when they crooned the famous Swahili love song, “Malaika” (Angel). PJ Powers’ “Jabulani” kept the fires of our cultural diversity burning.
On stage in Paris, Johnny Clegg serenaded and danced with Mandela with “Asimbonanga” – a prelude to the enigmatic leader’s release from Robben Island.
If anything at all, ‘’Jerusalema ikhaya lami – Jerusalema is my home’’ may have taught us that east-west, home is where the heart.
But amidst huge social ills and corruption sullying SA at Covid-19, take heart though in the lilting lyrics of Letta Mbulu’s “(It’s) Not Yet Uhuru”. As we navigate into the unknown with 45% pay cuts, gloomy jobs forecast and cashless communities, we can still do Miriam Makeba’s joyful “Pata Pata” or hum Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”.
Singing and dancing could help the nation to re-imagine a new future or frontier.
Nkosi Sikeli ‘ iAfrika
* Marlan Padayachee is a journalist and media strategist.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL.