When coronavirus placed the world in lockdown, a gospel-influenced anthem with Zulu lyrics brought people together through social media, lifting spirits and instantly becoming a global phenomenon.
Today, “Jerusalema” has clocked more than 230 million YouTube views in less than a year — and lured an army of people into mimicking its dance moves.
“The feedback was crazy,” says 24-year-old South African artist Master KG, who co-wrote and performs the disco-house track with Nomcebo Zikode.
The viral “Jerusalema dance challenge” saw thousands across the world posting clips of themselves copying the video choreography.
Front-line medical workers, soldiers, stiff-limbed clergymen, diners at swanky European restaurants and even the Cape Town Philharmonic Orchestra, everyone seemed to want to shake a leg.
Lucius Banda, organiser of the annual Sand Music Festival on the shore of Lake Malawi, says “Jerusalema” became a “Covid anthem” – a source of joy at grim times.
The chart-topping song on Sunday bagged the Best African Act at this year’s MTV European Music Awards.
“We are exceptionally proud of our ambassadors… representing our motherland in such a unifying and unprecedented manner,” tweeted South Africa’s arts and culture minister, Nathi Mthethwa.
A remix featuring Nigerian star Burna boy was recently awarded diamond status in France for clocking 35 million streams since its release in June this year.
Master KG, whose real name is Kgaogelo Moagi, told AFP that he was continuing with life as normal despite the song’s huge success.
“I’m not feeling like superman or that I’m the man of the moment. It’s just the same,” he said last week at the Sand Festival.
“I know now I am having the biggest song in the world but that doesn’t change me, it doesn’t change how I look at things, how I look at people. Because music is music.”
Festival-goers braved a heavy downpour on November 1 to catch “Jerusalema” performed live for the first time since the pandemic hit southern Africa in March.
German musician Rafael Loopro, who performed at the festival, lamented the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on live music performances.
“I was saying to him (Master KG) that I was sorry that this song became big this time because he could have been playing all over the world.”
“But he didn’t even know that the song was on number one in Germany,” Loopro said, adding that the last time an African song had topped the charts in his country was three decades ago.
“It’s an amazing song and he is an amazing guy. He is very down to earth.”
Many people may have danced or hummed along to the song with no idea about the lyrics.
The words mean “Jerusalem is my home, guard me, walk with me, do not leave me here – Jerusalem is my home, my place is not here, my kingdom is not here.”
Defenders of the Palestinian cause have taken this to describe the yearning of young Palestinians who want to make Israeli-occupied East Jerusalem the capital of a future state.
“Palestinian refugees will one day return to their ancestral, indigenous land despite apartheid Israel,” the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement said in a tweet.
It dedicated a rendition of the dance by the young of Jerusalem to “our friends in South Africa.”