The Sunday News
Bruce Ndlovu, Sunday Life Reporter
EVERY once in a while, there comes a song, a piece of art that seems to defy its critics and outdo modest expectations by achieving more than anyone ever thought was possible.
It is the kind of song that succeeds despite its humble beginnings, overcoming cultural and language barriers as its greatness is embraced past the borders from which it was made.
There are many songs that achieve global fame, but few do so without the push of big global record labels that steamroll smaller artistes with their marketing and advertising muscle. Rarely do songs become hits without that push, the push that makes clearly lesser talented acts from the West become global brands.
Despite the global battle for supremacy on the charts, where money can determine who makes it and who does not, some songs survive off the strength of their excellence only. One can think of Salif Keita’s Africa, a song that, should the continent ever unite, could easily become its national anthem.
One can think of Shakira’s Waka Waka, a song that will forever be tied to the euphoria that accompanied the first ever World Cup held on African soil in South Africa in 2010.
South Africa’s Master KG’s Jerusalema perhaps, with time, may belong to that class. The numbers that the song has managed to pull are simply astounding.
The song had more than 114 million YouTube views and four million Shazams, at the time of publication. On social media video platform TikTok <https://www.tiktok.com/tag/jerusalema?lang=en> the #Jerusalema hashtag having a whopping 238.7 million views, and counting.
From Makokoba to the streets of Harlem and Sicily, people have attempted the Jerusalema dance, itself a dance that is as uncomplicated and addictive as the song from which it originated.
For a while now, Jerusalema has been the talk of the world but perhaps this past week was its pinnacle. First Portuguese footballer Cristiano Ronaldo used the song as the soundtrack for a video of his family at a gathering as they relaxed in the off season, that rare period when the champion Juventus forward has a chance to rest.
Then it was announced that the song had gone platinum in Italy and then, to put the icing on the cake, legendary musician Janet Jackson tweeted a shoutout to Master KG, as she saluted to a young girl getting down to his song.
For those that were in Bulawayo during the festive season, all this adulation for Master KG’s masterpiece comes perhaps nine months too late.
The song was the rage in the city during the festive season and when the clock started ticking towards midnight on December 31, many DJs would no doubt have had it on standby as the New Year was being born.
It was a monster hit, but very few who locked lips, danced and stomped as Jerusalema played during the dawn of — New Year could have predicted how big the song would become. The song itself is baffling.
It is a track that speaks about hope and the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, the holy city located on a plateau in the Judaean Mountains between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. Yet, the song was and is still a club anthem, and it is more likely to be played in a tavern than it is in church.
So what lessons can one learn from Master KG’s viral hit. For artistes in Bulawayo, the key lesson perhaps should be that one should stick to their guns no matter what the world might say about what they are producing.
When the song was first released, Master KG had his fair share of critics. In a year in which Amapiano dominated, the song did not meet the standards of house music taste makers. It was not sophisticated enough, they argued, and was fit for shabeens and taverns rather than high end clubs.
“Some call it Tavern Music and I said it’s OK, wait and let me show what Tavern Music can do to the world. Jerusalema just reached 40 million views, thank you a million times.” the 26 year-old tweeted when the song reached the 40 million view milestone.
Seventy four million views later, the Limpopo born hit maker stands vindicated.
Very often artistes, not only in Bulawayo but around the world, are too eager to please critics who will never give them their due. Instead of seeking the approval of naysayers, it is better for one to one’s guns and go with whatever their gut tells them. It is the artistes that stay true to themselves, like old the hilariously honest and humble Sikhosana, who grab the listeners’ attention.
Like Master KG, he is an artiste that is thoroughly true to himself, and while his actions might scream “Nkayi” he does little to change himself because he has come this far by being just that: himself.
“I’m always told to stop shouting ‘Master Master KG, Wanitwa mos’ on my songs.’ I know it can be annoying, but it works for me hlee (please),” Master KG said of his signature chant. While it might annoy the “sophisticated”, that chant works for his style of music and is now known across oceans.
In a year in which the whole world has been turned upside down by a deadly Coronavirus, perhaps it is no wonder that a song with a gospel message has provide the soundtrack for days lived under the dark cloud of an epidemic.