[These two extracts are from an article in The Round Table: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs.]
Global appeal of the Jerusalema Song Jerusalema is the award winning South African gospel hit that got the globe singing and dancing as a way of warding off the adverse social and mental health challenges occasioned by the ravaging effects of COVID-19. Jerusalema was produced by Kgaogelo Moagi popularly known as Master KG, a South African DJ and record producer, and it featured Nomcebo Zikode, one of South Africa’s finest vocalists. The Jerusalema song is an ingenious blend of isiZulu language, harmonious sound beats, striking instrumentation and South African dance. In context, Jerusalema portrays deep expressions, which are reflective of the travails of Nomcebo’s soul in her quest for a fulfilling purpose with her innate musical talent during her brief moment of existence on earth. Thereafter, Nomcebo acknowledges Jerusalem, the heavenly city as her true home, the place of solace and permanent abode she is longing for (Motumi, 2020). Nomcebo also prays to God to guard her and accompany her as she journeys through life until she joins Him in the heavenly city. The audio track of the popular song was initially released in November 2019 and this was soon followed by a music video in December of the same year. By May 2019, Master KG had reached out to Nigeria’s Afro-pop icon, Burna Boy, for a collaboration on the remix of the Jerusalema hit in order to prevent the song from fading away (Mhlungu, 2020). By 19 June 2020, the Jerusalema remix featuring Burna Boy was released (Mhlungu, 2020). The fame of the song began in South Africa during the 2019 end-ofyear festive season when it was played on various radio stations (Young, 2020). Thereafter, Jerusalema instantly became the No. 1 most played song on South African radio from November 2019 to January 2020 (PopPulse [@PopPulse], 2020). Within 3 months of production, Jerusalema quickly pulled 10 million YouTube viewers (Master KG Music [@MasterKGsa], 2020a), reached 100 million YouTube views within 8 months, and over 157 million within 9 months (AFRIMMA [@afrimma], 2020). It clocked 200 million on 23 October 2020 (Master KG Music [@MasterKGsa], 2020b) and peaked at 316 million views by January 2021. The Jerusalema remix also made one million views in 1 week (Master KG Music [@MasterKGsa], 2020c). The song became a global attraction when a video surfaced on YouTube showing a group of Angolan dancers dancing to the Jerusalema song while carrying food plates on their heads and eating simultaneously (Master KG Music [@MasterKGsa], 2020c). Leveraging on the transnational nature of digital information communication and technology, the appeal of the Jerusalema song began to spread to transnational audiences across Africa, Europe, Latin America, North America and the Middle East. In spite of being composed in the isiZulu language peculiar to the Zulu people of South Africa, the Jerusalema song struck a universal chord in the hearts and minds of international audiences and consequently emerged as a global anthem during the heat of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consequent upon its transnational popularity and widespread acceptability, the Jerusalema song has continued to rank high on different music platforms across the world. Jerusalema was ranked fourth on Portugal’s iTunes on the 9 of July (Master KG Music [@MasterKGsa], 2020d) and first on radio in France (Master KG Music [@MasterKGsa], 2020e). The remix of Jerusalema that featured Burna Boy ranked number one on Nigeria’s iTunes chart. Interestingly, Jerusalema ranked 11th on the global iTunes league-table (Master KG Music [@MasterKGsa], 2020f) and emerged as the most Shazamed3 song in the globe.4 On 15 August 2020, Jerusalema ranked number one on the UK Afrobeats singles charts – a position it held for two consecutive weeks (Moroe, 2020). Building on the established international influence of Burna Boy, the awardwinning Nigerian Afrobeat icon, the remix of Jerusalema which featured Burna Boy spurred the ascendency of the Jerusalema song to the United States Billboard Hot Dance and Electronic Songs charts (Bedirian, 2020; Young, 2020). Jerusalema became available on streaming services on iTunes and Spotify in July 2020 and peaked at number one position on iTunes in South Africa, Belgium, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Grenada, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and France within a few weeks (Bedirian, 2020). Jerusalema is unarguably a phenomenal South African song with an amazing global reach, attraction, acceptance and recurrent adoption around the world. Contrary to the perceived past failures of South African diplomats and government officials to exploit South Africa’s enormous soft power resources, Bobby J. Moroe, the Deputy High Commissioner of South Africa to the Federal Republic of Nigeria, described the global achievements recorded by the Jerusalema song ‘as a force to be reckoned with, and an undisputed conduit for South Africa’s display of “soft power” within the continent of Africa and indeed globally’ (Moroe, 2020). President Cyril Ramaphosa underscored how the soft power appeal engrained in the unintended cultural export of the song has captivated the world’s attention despite the challenge imposed by language barriers in understanding the meaning of the song. Building on this, Ramaphosa emphasised that ‘there can be no better celebration of our South African-ness than joining the global phenomenon that is spreading across the world and that is the Jerusalema dance challenge . . . ’ (The Presidency Republic of South Africa, 2020). This evidently signifies a governmental awakening to the soft power potential of South Africa’s cultural exports.
COVID-19 and the cultural diplomacy of the Jerusalema Song
The global COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc in the lives and in the economic and socio-cultural engagements of all persons across the world. South Africa is one of the most affected countries with a record of 2.2 million total recorded infections and over 64,000 deaths as of early July 2021. In the absence of a known cure, South Africans and the nationals of various countries have embraced different therapeutic means of warding off the challenges of boredom, self-isolation and suicidal thoughts associated with the lockdown and social distancing measures imposed on people everywhere. To this end, the Jerusalema song – together with the #JerusalemaDanceChanllenge – ‘has provided a moment’s relief across borders and language barriers’ (The Jakarta Post, 2020).
The transnational acceptance and adulation of the Jerusalema song stems from the global perception of the timely message entrenched in the song and the bandwagon effect of therapeutic potentials of the Jerusalema dance as a COVID-19 coping mechanism and a medium of warding off the debilitating consequences of the pandemic (Associated Press, 2020). This assertion is substantiated by comments from transnational audiences that the song and the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge brought succour to people in different countries during the COVID-19 era. Such comments corroborate claims that music is a powerful tool, which conveys audience into diverse emotional conditions (Statler, 2012) and effects proven therapeutic changes in their behaviour, emotions and mood regardless of socio-cultural difference, nationality and language barriers. It also validates the medical benefits of dance for lowering stress, addressing loneliness, healing depression (Alpert, 2010) and trauma (Bernstein, 2019) which are characteristics of the lockdown and the social distancing protocols imposed to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 virus globally.
Considering the unintended global diffusion and adoption of the Jerusalema song and the accompanying #JerudsalemDanceChallenge, it is evident that Pretoria is in a more advantaged position to win the hearts and minds of transnational audiences than any other period in its diplomatic history. It is imperative that South Africa exploit this rare opportunity to address the often-stereotypical depiction of the country and its nationals as people predisposed to perpetuating xenophobic violence. Doing this could improve perceptions of South Africans abroad and extend the admiration of South Africa globally. Referring to the implications of the Jerusalma song and the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge for the way South Africans are perceived abroad, a South African resident in France, Cheryl Hlatshwayo, expressed the view that this period of the global Jerusalema dance craze is the best time to be a South African in the diaspora because foreigners ‘love our music and dance at a Global Scale’. Corroborating this viewpoint, Tony Montalvo stated that ‘being a South African in France now is so cool’ (Montalvo, T. [@NtombelaTony]).
Contrary to what was obtained in the past, the South African government is awakening to the cultural diplomacy potentials inherent in the cultural exports of music and dance. Consequent upon the success of Master KG and Nomcebe Zikode in using South African music and dance to unintentionally boost the external image of South Africa and extend its admiration globally, the South African Ministry of Sports, Arts and Culture acted swiftly by appointing them both as South Africa’s cultural diplomacy ambassadors tasked with the responsibility of collaborating with the government in using cultural exports indigenous to South Africa to foster harmonious relations between South Africa and the rest of the world (Sport and Recreation South Africa Republic of South Africa, 2020). In the same way, the United States and Soviet Union sponsored music and dance tours as strategic tools imperative for achieving their Cold War diplomatic objectives (Ansari, 2012; Campbell, 2012; Fosler-Lussier, 2012; Rosenberg, 2012), the appointment of Master KG and Nomcebe Zikode as cultural diplomacy ambassadors of South Africa provides a way for the South African government to exploit its music cultural exports as attractive soft power strategies of winning the hearts and minds of transnational audiences and shaping their preferences (Nye, 2008, 2009). Also, South Africa is less likely to experience major resistance to the advancement of its diplomatic objectives and strategic interests within the SADC sub-region and indeed Africa if it is able to complement its hard power strategies with subtle and co-optive cultural exports that pave the way for getting its preferred political, economic, and regional hegemonic outcomes (Nye).
Dare Leke Idowu is an Assistant Lecturer, Political Science and International Relations Programme, Bowen University, Iwo, Nigeria & Olusola Ogunnubi is a Research Fellow, Centre for Gender and African Studies, University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Master KG – Jerusalema [Feat. Nomcebo] (Official Music Video)