Jerusalema ... in Jerusalem

Master KG and Nomcebo’s hit Jerusalema spawned thousands of videos on social media and more than 100 million views on YouTube. But they couldn’t have guessed it would inspire a group of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, writes Suraya Dadoo.

Nomcebo Zikode admits that she was in a dark place when she came up with the lyrics for her and Master KG’s global hit Jerusalema.

“Master KG played the beat three or four times, and the words that came to me were ‘Jerusalema, ikhaya lami [Jerusalem is my home]’,” says the 32-year-old hitmaker.

Zikode says that, at the time, she wanted God to take her to her own Jerusalem – a place where she could find the peace and contentment that she desperately needed.

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Zikode may not have travelled to Jerusalem, but her words and Master KG’s infectious beat ended up on the streets of the holy city recently, as Jerusalema continues to capture the world’s imagination.

Jerusalem music collective, Jaw (meaning “mood” or “atmosphere” in Arabic), uploaded a Palestinian version of the #JerusalemaDanceChallenge in the middle of last month.

The three-minute video was filmed in the Bab Al-Majles neighbourhood of East Jerusalem with the participation of the small Afro-Palestinian community there, whose roots go back to Nigeria, Chad, Senegal and Sudan.

Local dancers created their own version of the Jerusalema dance by adding elements of the dabkeh, a traditional Palestinian dance.

While Jerusalema’s infectious beat and catchy dance routine have spawned thousands of videos on social media, more than 100 million views on YouTube and have even grabbed the attention of football and Instagram superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, it is Zikode’s isiZulu lyrics that moved Palestinians.

They are essentially a plea to God, asking for protection and guidance, and to be taken to safety and happiness.

They are essentially a plea to God, asking for protection and guidance, and to be taken to safety and happiness.

“It’s like it was written by a Palestinian,” says Jaw spokesperson Samer Hussam Abu-Esheh.

The young Palestinian musician says that Zikode’s simple words describe the painful longing of thousands of Palestinians to return to their homes, families and peace in Jerusalem.

“Jerusalema ikhaya lami,” Abu-Esheh says slowly and deliberately over the phone in heavily Arabic-accented isiZulu.

While Jerusalema has been described as a global anthem, the opening lines of the song are a deeply personal rallying call for displaced Palestinians, says Abu-Esheh.

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Although the word ‘Jerusalem’ roughly translates to “city of peace”, the city has a long, turbulent and violent history – having been conquered many times.

In 1948, Israel divided Jerusalem into Israeli West Jerusalem and Palestinian East Jerusalem. In 1967, Israel occupied East Jerusalem and has moved hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the area since then.

As a result, thousands of Palestinians have had their homes demolished and have been pushed out of the city. They long to return.

Zikode is ecstatic that her words have resonated so strongly with Palestinians: “I understand why they feel so touched by the song after what happened. They’ve got the meaning and it’s on point.”

The Palestinian video also ended with a powerful message that touched on the deeper issues affecting young people in Palestine and South Africa: “From Jerusalem to South Africa with love.

The Palestinian video also ended with a powerful message that touched on the deeper issues affecting young people in Palestine and South Africa: “From Jerusalem to South Africa with love.

This dance by the youth of Jerusalem is dedicated to our friends in South Africa. As our leaders before us, let us unite with renewed energy towards collective liberation. From Palestine to South Africa, Amandla Awethu; the future is ours.”

That message caught the attention of Sosha Kumalo of the Durban-based dance group Love World Production.

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Using Jerusalema as the soundtrack, Kumalo’s young team – wearing the traditional Palestinian keffiyeh (scarf) on their arms along with the Zulu isicoco head-ring and the amabeshu waist covering – infused traditional Zulu umshado dance moves with the Jerusalema dance.

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Their short video was shot in Clermont, Durban, on the rooftop of the notorious KK Hostel – the largest male migrant labour hostel in the southern hemisphere. The apartheid regime used the hostel system as a tool of control and repression.

“We chose this place because it reminds us of our past, which is so similar to the Palestinians’ present moment,” explains Kumalo.

“Today, this place is a sign of hope. If we could overcome our suffering, then Palestinians can also achieve their freedom.”

“Today, this place is a sign of hope. If we could overcome our suffering, then Palestinians can also achieve their freedom.”

Abu-Esheh is eager for Nomcebo and Master KG to visit the occupied city once it is safe to travel, and is keen to collaborate with the duo. Jerusalem also holds a special place in Zikode’s heart and faith, and she hopes to one day visit the sacred city.

“Inshallah [God willing],” Zikode repeats after me.

  • Dadoo is a freelance writer based in Johannesburg.Follow her @Suraya_Dadoo
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