The Angolan dancers who helped the South African pop anthem “Jerusalema” go global (2022)

The Angolan dancers who helped the South African pop anthem “Jerusalema” go global (1)

In February the Angolan dance troupe Fenómenos do Semba created the viral #JerusalemaDanceChallenge video that showed off their dance moves to the South African hit song Jerusalema. Their video is set in a backyard in Luanda, where they break into a group dance, all the while eating lunch from plates in their hands.

In the age of coronavirus, the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge video generated a counter-contagion. Almost overnight everyone from police departments in Africa to priests in Europe were posting their own Jerusalema dance videos that repeated the choreography.

The challenge videos were swept along in a message of hope condensed in the single word “Jerusalema” and amplified through an electronic beat that its creator, Johannesburg-based musician and producer Master KG, describes as “spiritual”.

Putting together this beat in November 2019, he invited South African gospel vocalist Nomcebo Zikode to interpret it lyrically. The magic isiZulu phrase “Jerusalema, ikhaya lami” (Jerusalem is my home) arose through their jamming. Then the Angolans provided an irresistible choreography, and the rest is history.

The Angolan dance routine is both just repetitive enough to be picked up and just varied enough to tease. Videos flew around the world on TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. Like the urge to dance to “the earliest Ragtime songs” described by Ishmael Reed in his novel Mumbo Jumbo, the dance challenge, too, “jes grew”.

(Video) ORIGINAL: Jerusalema Dance Challenge - By Fenomenos do Semba

The gift of moving collectively

So how did it “just grow”?

“We are happy to bring the joy of dance to the whole world through this marvelous dance,” (“Estamos felizes por levar a alegria da dança para o mundo inteiro atraves desta dança maravilhosa”) Fenómenos do Semba declare in Portuguese on their Facebook page.

What they call “alegria da dança” (the joy of the dance) can also be read as “alegropolitics” or joy pressed out from trauma and dehumanization. Historically, enslavement, colonialism, commodification, and a continuing threat to Black life brings forth Afro-Atlantic expressive culture.

This is seen from carnivals to the viral Don’t Rush Challenge, started during coronavirus lockdowns by a group of African heritage women where each dances to a hip-hop song and uses technology to “pass” a makeup brush to another.

This gift to the world is the secret of moving collectively. Not in cookie-cutter unison but through individual response to poly-rhythmic Africanist aesthetic principles that are held together by a master-structure. Dancing in this way is resistance, incorporating kinetic, and rhythmic principles that circulated initially around the Atlantic rim (including the Americas, Europe, the Caribbean, and Africa). It connects and revitalizes by enacting an embodied memory of resistance to enslavement.

The Jerusalema dance challenge is an example of how dance enables convivencia (living together). It is a line dance (animation in French, animação in Portuguese, animación in Spanish) that enlivens parties through simple choreography that makes people dance together. Routines involve directional movement enabled by switching of feet, with dancers turning 90 degrees to repeat the choreography. Syncopated steps create enjoyable tension, and more and more people can join as the routine repeats itself till the song ends.

(Video) Dancing Jerusalema all over the World 30min mix

Viral African line dances

Many internet-driven line dances have emerged in response to songs such as Jerusalema. Created by popular music producers in Africa, they are often operating with limited resources and responding to national music trends that also have a pan-continental appeal. Think of Ghanaian azonto, Nigerian Afro-beats; Angolan kuduro; South African house.

The dances that develop from the music start out local but can spread from country to country. Choreographies to Ghanaian azonto hits, for example, are taught by dance instructors from Accra when they’re visiting dance clubs in Cotonou in Benin—as I experienced during years of dance research in West Africa.

Videos shared via WhatsApp also enable such “urban” dance styles to jump borders. This is how a member of Fenómenos do Semba received a sample of Jerusalema from South African friends and shared it with his team. According to group leader Adilson Maiza, they loved it as soon as they heard it. To create a line dance choreography to a song from Johannesburg, these dancers from Luanda dipped freely into the vast reservoir of different African accents of dancing to Afro-beat music.

Angola’s rich dance culture

These accents include their own. Angola’s rich social dance culture has gone global through the couple dances kizomba and the more upbeat semba. A DJ will periodically break up dancing couples with a track that unites the crowd through line dance routines that gesture to the Angolan music and dance style kuduro: hyper-exaggerated, angular, dexterous, sardonic. Kuduro steps are hard. To make the routines easier to pick up, they’re mixed with generic Afro-beat dance steps.

Maiza asserts that the Jerusalema choreography mixes kuduro and Afro-beat. Others in the Angolan dance scene disagree, pointing to videos of South African pantsula and kwaito that reveal similar footwork. Master KG himself declared that what the Angolan group made viral was a South African dance style popular at celebrations. Citing him, magazine Novo Jornal observes that the Jerusalema choreography nonetheless transmits an undeniable Angolan touch. It’s what Maiza interprets as signature “ginga e banga Angolana” (Angolan sway and swag).

Ginga, banga, kizomba, semba, kuduro: all Angolan words for dance styles and attitudes that, like line dances, emerge from long circum-Atlantic conversations. Line dances criss-cross the Atlantic, complicating the line between recognition and appropriation. The Danza Kuduro dance was set to a Spanish-language song responding to a Puerto Rican hit. There was the Macarena dance (Spain and Venezuela) and the Electric Slide (US and Jamaica).

A way to build community

Instead of understanding the Jerusalema dance challenge as an intra-African phenomenon, it’s maybe more useful to understand it in terms of ongoing creolization processes—a mixing of cultures—that spiral around the Atlantic rim. Multi-directional, unpredictable, but always innovative, creolization is the motor of the “alegropolitics” of African-heritage music and dance. If the Angolan video popularized the South African anthem, this is a collaborative and competitive creolizing phenomenon.

(Video) Jerusalema (LYRICS) - Master KG Ft. Nomcebo With English Translation

As Fenómenos do Semba morph effortlessly from eating together to dancing together, they draw on deep and resonant reservoirs of Afro-Atlantic survival through joy. The dancers’ hangout is the Angolan quintal or backyard, a hub of activity during long, curfewed nights of unending civil war. However, they are eating cachupa, a typical Cape Verdean dish frequently used as a symbol for creolization.

Like the revival of line dances during the Black Lives Matter protests, Jerusalema went viral during the coronavirus pandemic because the dance challenge enacted a simple way to connect and build community: especially at a time when people were hungering for these possibilities.

A South African singer’s call, “Zuhambe nami” (join me) was realized through an Angolan dance group’s brainwave to use cachupa to demonstrate that, in Maiza’s words:

It is possible to be happy with little: we party with very little.
(É possível ser feliz mesmo com pouco: com pouco fizemos a nossa festa.)

And, with just the resources of the body, the locked-down world partied too, for the duration of the dance.

Obrigada to Nikolett Hamvas, Adilson Maiza, Rui Djassi Moracén.

The Angolan dancers who helped the South African pop anthem “Jerusalema” go global (2)

(Video) How Did Jerusalema Song Become Famous?

Ananya Jahanara Kabir, Professor of English Literature, King’s College London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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The Angolan dancers who helped the South African pop anthem “Jerusalema” go global (3)


Who started the Jerusalema dance Angola? ›

The dance trend began in February of last year, when Fenómenos do Semba, a group in Angola, south-west Africa, recorded themselves dancing to the song while eating and without dropping their plates.

What is the Jerusalema dance Challenge about? ›

The dance challenge took off in February 2020, as Covid-19 caused lockdowns in African countries like in most parts of the world. It was a group of six friends – four men and two women – in Angola who made a video of themselves dancing to the foot-tapping number, while taking bites of food from plates in one hand.

Where did the Jerusalem dance come from? ›

The song was released in 2019 but the dance element began in Angola in February 2019, where a dance troupe recorded themselves busting some moves to the song while eating their lunch. A viral sensation was born... Even if it took a while for it to make its way here.

How do you do the Jerusalema dance step by step? ›

Jerusalema Dance Steps Breakdown; tutorial for beginners - YouTube

What type of dance is Jerusalema? ›

Gospel-house disco dance

Is Jerusalema a traditional dance? ›

The Mbende traditional dance, now known by its Christian name, Jerusarema, is distinctive not just for the people of Murehwa, but for the entire nation, as it is featured prominently at all national occasions.

Why is self reflection so important in dance? ›

Reflective practice has the capability to facilitate deeper experiential understanding to enhance performance. It can release the dancer from the traditional 'watch and repeat' mode of dance training.

Why is the Jerusalema song so popular? ›

Jerusalema went viral during the isolation and loss caused by COVID-19 lockdowns world-wide. It has resonated with people who may not understand the isiZulu lyrics, but understand its inherent religious theme, because of associations with the biblical city Jerusalem.

How did the drop Challenge start? ›

TikTok's Drop Challenge

The trend gained hype when an American stand-up comedian Atsuko Okatsuka did Beyonce's drop challenge in public with her grandmother which got viral in minutes. The trendsetter was Beyonce and the other actors recreating it made the video viral.

Why did Jerusalem go viral? ›

Like the revival of line dances during the Black Lives Matter protests, Jerusalema went viral during the coronavirus pandemic because the dance challenge enacted a simple way to connect and build community: especially at a time when people were hungering for these possibilities.

What is the new dance craze? ›

The “Nae Nae” is a simple dance, with a catchy song attached (the perfect elements for an organized dance song). The dance which mainly involves the upper body, has become the newest Hip Hop dance craze. Originated by We Are Toonz, the dance includes a simple four count and the rest is freestyle.

How much did Master KG make from Jerusalem? ›

How much money has Master KG made with Jerusalema video on Youtube? The average Revenue Per Thousand Impressions (RPM) for Jerualema is estimated at USD 1.5 at lowest taking into consideration factors such as geographical location. With 162 million views, Master KG has made an estimated USD 243,000 (R4,1 million).

How do I dance? ›

How to Dance with Rhythm Tutorial (Club Dance for Beginners) I Get ...

What is the dance where you kick your leg and arm? ›

That one popular viral dance move that you're seeing everywhere? The one where you jump on one leg while pumping your arm? It's called THE SHOOT. Or, the Blocboy JB dance.

How do you do the electric slide step by step? ›

The Electric Slide Dance Steps (3 Variations) - Line Dance - YouTube

Is the Jerusalema dance South Africa? ›

South Africans of all walks of life are dancing to “Jerusalema,” a rousing anthem to lift their spirits amid the battle against COVID-19. In response to a call from President Cyril Ramaphosa to mark the country's Heritage Day holiday Thursday, people from townships to posh suburbs are doing line dances to the tune.

What language is the Jerusalema dance? ›

Jerusalema song was sung in South African Zulu Language.

Who started the Nwantiti dance? ›

The most popular are the dance videos replicating a dance routine created by popular TikToker Tracy Joseph. “I find the sound really cute,” says Fola Francis, a 27-year-old fashion designer who regularly posts on TikTok.

What dance is popular in South Africa? ›

Zulu dancing is quite spectacular, especially when the men and women are fully dressed in their traditional attire. Indlamu dance is most often associated with the Nguni, including Zulu, Swazi, and Ndebele or Xhosa cultures. It is derived from the war dances of amabutho (warriors).


1. Jerusalema Top 10 Dance Challenge Part 4 (Master KG Feat. Nomcebo Remix)
(Euphoric Sound)
2. Jerusalema dance bringing everyone together in the pandemic (Global) - ITV News - 3rd February 2021
(Mark 1333)
3. Jerusalema Master KG Best Dance Challenge By Galaxy African Kids 2020 New
(Galaxy Foundation)
4. Masterkg ft Nomsebo—Jerusalema (official dance video)choreography by africankids a.k.a47
(african kids)
5. The Song Behind the Jerusalema Dance Challenge
(Brut America)
6. Ndlovu Youth Choir - Jerusalema Dance Challenge
(Ndlovu Youth Choir)

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