A song from South Africa that has gone around the world and been endorsed by presidents and priests has become the sound of the pandemic for millions across southern Africa.
Last week the Jerusalema dance challenge was endorsed by President Cyril Ramaphosa ahead of the country’s plan to open up to tourism on 1 October.
The simple dance routine to the 2019 hit Jerusalema by Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode has provided an uplifting soundtrack for difficult times and has now been streamed more than 60m times on Spotify.
The upbeat song is a lamentation for God to take the singer to the heavenly city. The track topped the South African charts in December but in February, as lockdowns began to seem like a possibility, it was a group of friends in Angola who shot a video dancing to the song that sparked the global trend.
In the video, over lunch, a group of young men holding plates of food start to demonstrate the dance routine to their female counterparts who then join in. It was followed by another video from Portugal, setting the tone for how international the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge would prove to be.
“It is a dance that was done by people from Angola, then Portugal followed and it just went viral from that point,” Master KG said in an interview with South African newspaper Sowetan.
Clips of dancers across the globe now include nuns, construction workers, police officers, waiters and fuel attendants.
Emotional videos of healthcare workers in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Italy, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the US, Australia and Puerto Rico have become an uplifting source of hope for patients fighting Covid-19, as some countries experience a second wave.
South African police officers have joined in while army personnel in Ghana also strutted their stuff in their camouflage.
Choreographers around the world have posted tutorials online while celebrities such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo and singer Janet Jackson have posted shout outs to the song, which has already garnered 140m views on YouTube.
Not to be outdone are newly married couples who have used the dance to celebrate their love while the sight of Catholic priests dancing to Jerusalema raised eyebrows among spectators.
Businesses have also taken advantage of the dance challenge to advertise their products as demand remains suppressed due to the lockdown.
The song scaled new heights this month when it was named the most popular track on Shazam.
Master KG has been elated by his creation’s global success.
“It’s so beautiful to see how Jerusalema has taken over the world, to see how far it has gone. The song did amazing at home. It ruled the streets and people created memories of the song,” he said in the interview with Sowetan.
South African president Cyril Ramaphosa urged his citizens to take part in the dance challenge “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”.
Speaking on the country’s Heritage Day he said: “And there can be no better celebration of our South African-ness than joining the global phenomenon that is the Jerusalema dance challenge. So I urge all of you to take up this challenge on Heritage Day and show the world what we are capable of.”
The challenge, according to Nigerian musician Burna Boy, who featured on the Jerusalema remix, should be a unifying force for Africa.
“My hope is that it unites us through our divisions and misunderstandings and dance together. We are not in competition, we are one Africa, we are united,” the 2020 BET award best international act winner said.