Gospel in your disco: Why South Africa’s ‘Jerusalema’ became No. 1

On a continent where culture is often taken by outsiders and repackaged, the South African song “Jerusalema” has flipped the script.

After an Angolan dance troupe recorded themselves dancing to a hit South African house track by DJ Master KG and vocalist Nomcebo in February, they sparked a global phenomenon. The dance challenge has been embraced by everyone from lawyers to firemen and flash mobs. Sung in Zulu, the lyrics are gospel-esque, and among the most enthusiastic takers of the challenge have been people of the cloth.

The song owes some popularity to the strange internet alchemies of 2020 and the pandemic that forced creative at-home entertainment. “But it’s rare that a global movement like this starts here and then is imitated by the world,” says Moky Makura, an expert in perceptions of Africa. Moments like this are important, she says, not only for helping change how the world sees Africa, but also because they help shift how Africans see themselves.

Even South African President Cyril Ramaphosa called upon his country to join the challenge after weathering six months of the pandemic, remembering “those who have lost their lives, and to quietly rejoice in the remarkable and diverse heritage of our nation.”


It began in December, and at first it was isolated. You probably didn’t know about it if you didn’t live nearby, or if you didn’t know someone who did.

But by February, it had begun to jump borders – first regionally, then around the world. By summer, it had become a feature of daily life from Angola to Hungary to Canada. World leaders spoke of it on national television. Health care workers rallied around it.

“It,” of course, was the “Jerusalema” dance challenge.

When an Angolan dance troupe recorded themselves dancing to a hit South African house