It starts with a clap, then the feet tap to the beat: four times on each side, followed by a quick hop. As the melody goes up, the dancers go down and down.
It’s a dance easy enough for anyone to learn, and people all over the world have done it, with everyone from urban dance crews in Angola to Franciscan nuns in Europe Flaunt their moves on social media.
Named after the South African song that inspired it, the “Jerusalem” dance was a must have moment Global joy during pandemic lockdownsa welcome distraction from isolation and collective grief.
But it was the chorus, the lament over a heavy bass beat, that was the refreshment for millions. Sung in a low alto voice in Izulu, one of the official languages of South Africa, the audience had no need to understand the song to move it.
Singer Nomsebo Nkwanyana, who goes by Nomsebo Zikode professionally, was drawn from her own heartache when he wrote it.
And she sang “Jerusalem is my home”. “Guard me. Walk with me. Don’t leave me here.”
After more than a decade as an overlooked backing vocalist, with her faith reeling in music, Ms. Zykod, 37, was in a dark place in 2019 when she wrote those words.
Her manager, who is also her husband, insisted on writing the lyrics to help her get rid of the voices in her head that were telling her to give up music.
“It was like there was a voice saying you had to kill yourself,” she said, describing her depression at the time. “I remember talking to myself saying, ‘No, I can’t kill myself. I have my kids to raise. I can’t, I can’t do that.’”
She did not hear a recording of the song until the day after it was produced. As the bass started reverberating through her car, everything went dark, she said, and she almost lost control of the car. She stopped, tears streaming down her face.
“Even if you don’t believe it,” she said, “this is my story.” “I heard the voice say to me, Nomsebo, this is going to be a big song all over the world.”
This prediction was soon proven correct.
In February 2020, a group of dancers in Angola were uploaded A video clip featuring their choreography to the song, and challenge others to outdo them. With the lockdown imposed only weeks later, the song was shared across the world.
The worldwide success of “Jerusalem” led Ms. Zikode to tour Europe, the Caribbean and the United States. It also led to her being featured on the song “Pyth,” which would Wins Grammy Award for Best World Music Performance earlier this year.
But while “Jerusalem” brought her worldwide fame, she had to struggle to earn any financial reward from it and to be recognized as part of her creative forte.
She sued her record company, and a settlement in December called for her to receive a percentage of the song’s royalties and allow her to review the books of Open Mic Productions, which owns the song.
Equally important, the agreement also states that Ms. Zikode is to be cited as the song’s “primary artist” along with Kgaogelo Moagi, better known as Master KG, the producer behind the musical track on “Jerusalema”.
But even this triumph in South Africa’s male-dominated music industry comes with major caveats: Master KG, for example, receives a higher percentage of royalties. Ms. Zykod said she had yet to see the payment. She said, “I’m still waiting for my money back.”
Open Mic did not respond to multiple requests for comment, but in a statement released after her Grammy win, the company said, “She is an extremely talented artist and we welcome this agreement as a progressive decision.”
Fighting for money is nothing new for her.
Mrs. Zicod’s father, the youngest of four children born into a polygamous marriage, died when she was young and her mother, third wife, was left destitute. In desperation, her mother allowed the church outside Hammersdale, a small town in the eastern South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, to take her four-year-old daughter.
There, she slept on bunk beds among rows of other children. She sewed her own clothes and helped clean the dormitories. The church choir was a consolation, but she so badly missed home that she was able to return in tenth grade.
Her mother would sell corn or barter vegetables she could grow for used clothes. Neighbors who would ask Mrs. Zykud to sing for them would feed her and take her in for a few nights while her mother struggled.
When she was old enough, Ms. Zicod learned to braid other people’s hair to earn some money, but she self-consciously recalls pressing her elbows to her side, fearful that her customers would swear that she couldn’t afford deodorant.
But what she really wanted was to sing, and she got her break at an open audition. She has spent years singing backup for gospel stars, sharing crowded apartments with other backing singers. When the gigs dried up, I took computer classes as a backup plan for the job.
Zykud’s first major South African song came in 2017 when she sang the song “ImazolwinBut what seemed like a long-awaited break turned into disappointment when DJ Giannini, as he is known, did everything he could, she said, to stop her from performing the song live.
“They are trying by all means to suppress the singers,” Ms. Zykod said of the DJs and producers who hold most power in the South African music industry.
DJ Ganyani did not respond to requests for comment.
Hoping the record company would better protect her rights, Ms. Zikode signed with Open Mic, but once the deal was inked, quiet came, she said, and she left tumultuously to record her debut album.
Feeling abandoned by the record company, her husband and manager, Selwyn Fraser, sent messages to other artists, posing as his wife on Instagram and Twitter, in an effort to get bigger names to work with.
This awareness campaign connected Mrs. Zikode with Master KG and resulted in “Jerusalem”.
Kgopolo Mphela, a South African entertainment commentator, said it was not only the song that made her a household name in South Africa, but also her public fight for royalties and recognition, in the courts and on social media.
“She emerges as the hero, or the underdog, against Goliath,” M’Vila said.
Despite struggling with reaping the cash benefits of “Jerusalem”, her music career has made her financially comfortable and she now has a music publishing deal with a division of Sony Music.
She said her 17-year-old daughter and 8-year-old son wanted nothing. She and her husband renovated their home and added their own studio.
Ms. Zykod can also enjoy her accolades with her Grammy win for “Bayethe.”
On a cold April night in Johannesburg, in the afterglow of the Grammys, Ms. Zykud steps out of a borrowed Bentley at an event celebrating South Africans who have achieved international success.
As she walked the red carpet, determined to own the moment, she accepted every interview request, whether from the national broadcaster or a TikTok influencer. Later that night, she accepts two checks, one for herself and one for a charity she founded to help poor young women.
When she took to the stage to perform the song that made her famous, she pulled up her dress to dance “Jerusalem”.