Jerusalema: The South African Song The World Needed

If music is food for the soul then the song Jerusalema is certainly that. 2020 has been extremely challenging and emotionally exhausting so when the song Jerusalema appeared online, it was immediately dubbed as the lockdown soundtrack of hope and faith.

The song was recorded on August 11, 2019, by Johannesburg-based musician and producer Master KG (Kgaogelo Moagi) and featured vocalist Nomcebo Zikode. It was officially released on November 29, 2019, and instantly became a global phenomenon.

For a South African song, written in a foreign dialect to receive global attention is further proof that music does not need any translation to touch and inspire billions of people around the world.

The contributing factors to the success of Jerusalema can serve as teaching lessons for marketers.

Perfect Timing

The gospel-house disco dance song appeared at a time when the world desperately needed something to escape from the emotional effects of the pandemic. The imposed lockdowns had left many feeling hopeless, depressed, lonely, financially distressed, and uncertain of the future.

Hopeless is exactly how vocalist Nomcebo Zikode felt when Master KG’s reached out to her. In an interview given to The Guardian, she said “All of this happened when I was about to lose hope,”. Zidoke had been a backup singer for many years and was ready to give up on her music career. After producing the track, Master KG invited her to add her powerful vocals to Jerusalema. This was her lifeline. In the song, she’s pleading in isiZulu, a South African language, for God to answer her prayers. She sings  “Jerusalema ikhaya lami / Ngilondoloze / Uhambe nami / Zungangishiyi lana” which in English translate to “Jerusalem is my home / Guide me / Take me with You / Do not leave me here.” The lyrics are simple yet powerful and relatable prayers for anyone seeking guidance.

The impact Jerusalema made was immediate and measurable. It was the world’s most Shazamed song, the music video garnered over 274 million views on YouTube, and Nomcebo Zikobe signed an exclusive international deal with Sony.

Dance Challenge

In February 2020, Fenómenos do Semba, a dance troupe from Angola started the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge video by choreographing a dance routine to Jerusalema. Their video quickly went viral with over 14 million views on YouTube, inspiring others to do the dance challenge. Some added their own creativity to the dance routine and others perfectly executed Fenómenos do Semba’s choreography with lunch plates in their hands and heads.

Surprisingly, everyone from Italian priests and nuns to Kenyan hospital staff participated in the Jerusalema dance challenge. Even South African President Cyril Ramaphosa encouraged South Africans to do the dance challenge on Heritage Day, a South African public holiday that celebrates the country’s diversity and culture.

The Jerusalema dance challenge is proof that music can unite people regardless of their origin, occupation, or social status.

Power of Collaboration

Most popular songs have remixes. Remixes allow for artists to take the song to a higher note and broaden their audiences. A remix can also make or break a record. The challenge is finding the perfect match to collaborate with. Though Jerusalema had been a hit for many months, it’s the remix released on June 19, 2020, featuring Nigeria’s biggest music star Burna Boy that propelled it onto the US Top Charts. On September 19, 2020, Jerusalema peaked at the #1 spot and stayed 23 weeks on the US Billboard chart. The long-awaited remix video had over 6.3 million views on YouTube.

On September 17, 2020, a second remix featuring Venezuelan singer Micro TDH and Colombian singer Greeicy was released. The video generated over 28 million views on YouTube.

While the two remixed were sung in different languages, the message of hope, love, and faith remains clear. Burna Boy sang in Yoruba, isiZulu, English, and Pidgin English. Micro TDH and Greeicy sang in Spanish.

Streaming Media and Virality

Jerusalema is a perfect example of successful viral marketing. The song has all the elements for great music but it weren’t streamed on a big media platform like YouTube and without a successful dance challenge, it’s fair to say that Jesuralema probably would not have reached as many people globally as it has.

In the same way, Shazam also played a major role in the continuous virality of the song. Fans everywhere wanted to know the lyrics to Jerusalema so they could sing along to the music. This is why it was ranked the world’s most Shazamed song.

It’s important to mention that virality can have a short cycle time. Thankfully, Master KG and Nomcebo Zikode are embracing their virality, leveraged the Jesuralema success into bigger music deals for the longevity of their musical career.

Jerusalema: The Product

Often a product can be well-marketed and fail miserably because it lacked authenticity. The authenticity in the message carried by Jerusalema is what moves consumers (listeners). Without such a powerful and relatable message Jerusalema would probably not reach the global success it has.

The song title alone evokes a spiritual connection. Regardless of one’s religion, the message of hope and faith is one that resonates with everyone. The strategic juxtaposition of the gospel lyrics and the upbeat melody worked perfectly in making everyone have fun and dance in trying times.