Some are saying the song and dance are a shining light in a world struggling through the Covid pandemic, but what’s the story behind Jerusalema? And could it really inspire hope in millions of people?
The Zulu tune with a universal appeal
Jerusalema started life in 2019, when the South African duo released it as a call to God to take them away to Jerusalem, or heaven in other words. Sang in Zulu, they intended to it to be uplifting, for its positive lyrics and upbeat rhythm to resonate with the listener.
Little did they know just how much it would resonate. While the video amassed a million views within a week of its launch, its success went through the roof following the onset of the Covid-19 crisis in March 2020.
First in Angola, a YouTube video of a group of friends interrupting their meal to perform a dance routine to the song went viral, starting a craze that swept Southern Africa. Healthcare workers, police officers and lawyers were among the thousands of videos of people performing the dance, and the phenomenon quickly started trending globally.
By the summer, fans had streamed the song 60 million times on Spotify, social networks were alive with talk about the craze, while celebrities such as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo announced their love for the song.
But why had the Covid-19 crisis kickstarted this?
A boost to society
The first global pandemic in over a century was a huge shock to the world. Every nation announced some kind of measure to contain the virus, ranging from simple social distancing laws to full-scale lockdowns where people were forbidden to go outside.
Jerusalema served as a symbol of hope during such difficult times. Amid a mountain of bad news, the sight of a group of people dancing to its positive words was a welcome boost to many. As its popularity gathered pace, more and more videos appeared: the sight of figures of authority, such as police officers, joining in spread the message that everyone was in it together – the law, the health services and average person on the street were united in fighting the disease.
The song also provided something for people to talk about while they were separated. Like a popular TV series or film can unite people, the dance craze could be discussed and even practiced between friends, giving them an excuse to meet up virtually or in person where permitted. In times of hardship, such crazes provide a boost to public morale, and reassure people that maybe things aren’t as bad as first feared.
President Ramaphosa’s speech about the song, made in an attempt to cement public goodwill around South Africa’s Heritage Day, underlines just how much of a positive impact it had.
It’s not just social benefits that Jerusalema brings. Dance therapy recommends such energetic dancing as a way of promoting harmony between the body and mind and producing feelings of wellness. While people often imagine happiness to come in the form of a promotion at work, or winning a huge lottery jackpot, dance therapists teach that true happiness comes from within, and dance can be a powerful tool in the process of attaining it.
Onlookers can also experience positive feelings just by watching the dance. Videos of health workers performing Jerusalema in various countries around the world have become a source of hope for COVID-19 patients, and a symbol of defiance against the disease.
Dancing is a form of expression, and when we express ourselves creatively it’s common to feel a sense of satisfaction, similar to a weight being lifted from our shoulders. With our lives restricted during the fight against the virus, it’s important to have these outlets of expression: without them we’re more likely to feel a sense of frustration, leading to anger and, possibly, depression.
Other dance crazes
Of course, Jerusalema isn’t the first dance to spark a craze and it won’t be the last.
Chubby Checker’s The Twist is one of the earliest examples in modern music of a dance sweeping the world with its simple yet catchy moves. In the 1980s, Black Lace’s Agadoo hit the dancefloors, providing a fun, if slightly annoying, tune to a series of hand gestures. In the last decade, you only need to look at global superstar Beyoncé Knowles and her hit Single Ladies to see just how much a pop song can get people all over the world dancing.
And, of course, everyone remembers Gangnam Style in 2012 as proof that the dance can also be completely bizarre and still cause a sensation.
In Jerusalema’s case, a catchy pop song and a cool dance acts as the perfect combination to get people moving. Its message of hope also serves as a beacon of hope during a pandemic that has rocked the world.
The overall message is simple — join in, learn the moves, and have some fun. Times might be hard, but we’re all in it together!