South Africa: Jerusalema star Master KG: ‘I was just doing my thing in the studio, vibing, happy’

By Shingai Darangwa

Posted on Friday, 16 July 2021 12:54
South Africans dance to the viral music hit "Jerusalema" as they celebrate the country's Heritage Day in the historic Bo Kaap area of Cape Town, South Africa, 24 September 2020. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

It's roughly 15 minutes before my scheduled Zoom interview with the South African dance music maestro Master KG and he’s just posted a clip on his Instagram feed showing him and Akon hanging out at a cherry red old-school convertible. The tagged location reads Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

When we get on our call, he explains that he’s actually in Paris and the clip was recorded while he was in Santa Domingo, a week before the promo for his latest single Shine Your Light, a collaborative effort between the venerable French DJ David Guetta and Akon.

While there, Master KG and Akon were also working on new music. “It was a great process,” he says. “Akon is such a humble guy. He’s so open to new ideas so we were really vibing. It didn’t even feel like this is someone I grew up looking up to or a big superstar, he just made me feel at home.”

In the spotlight

Over the past year, Master KG has been inescapable. His hit single Jerusalema, and the two official remixes it gave birth to, has been a fixture on airwaves across the globe, spawning a slew of platinum certifications in Switzerland, Belgium and France.

Despite being recorded in isiZulu, a language that few people outside of South Africa speak, Jerusalema has blown up to become one of the biggest songs to ever come out of the African continent. The song initially gained global recognition in February 2020 when a group of Angolan friends uploaded a dance routine to the song. It features the singer Nomcebo.

The dance routine would eventually become the viral Jerusalema Challenge. Subsequently, for long periods of 2020, Jerusalema occupied the number one spot on Shazam’s global charts and climbed to the number one spot on Spotify and Apple Music charts in dozens of countries around the world.

Despite this massive success, and the unfair questions it’s spawned over whether Master KG can live up to the hype, the 25-year-old doesn’t appear to feel any pressure to replicate Jerusalema. “I’m not trying to fight my work,” he says.

Jerusalema is my song at the end of the day. Even though it’s done what it’s done, at the end of the day it’s my song. For me I’m just taking everything as it comes, but obviously I’m working hard to make sure I deliver good music as much as I can. I’m not in the zone where I’m stressing a lot to outdo the song, I’m just making music. When I [composed] Jerusalema, there was nothing in my mind saying, ‘I wanna make the biggest song that has ever come from Africa’ or anything like that. I was just doing my thing in the studio, vibing, happy, with an open heart, making music like I always do.”

A few days after we spoke, during his stopover in Italy to continue with the promo for Shine Your Light, Master KG was given a plaque for achieving triple platinum in Italy for the original Jerusalema remix featuring Burna Boy and Nomcebo Zikode.

Seeking the sweet spot

Shine Your Light nestles in a sweet spot every Master KG single since 2018’s brilliant Skeleton Move. Released two years before Jerusalema, it was the song that thrust Master KG into the spotlight and got him touring the continent and beyond. It even earned him an All Africa Music Awards gong for Best Artiste in African electro.

Master KG seems to have a winning formula, so it’s no surprise that Shine Your Light follows the same jubilant, joyful thread that made Skeleton Move – and to a much larger extent Jerusalema – so successful.  “Let your light shine from within / no more hatred let love win / I’m your family I’m your friend,” Akon sings with optimism that also characterised his late-career renaissance.

Perfect pitch

It was a great collaboration. “I feel like every time when I enter the studio I just get that spirituality in me,” he says. “Every time I create something it always brings that peace and spirituality vibe. I can’t run away from it, it’s always there. That’s another reason why I wanted David Guetta, because he’s always been preaching the same thing from way back, in all his albums: one love, unity and all of that. It’s natural to me.”

David Guetta has been one of Master KGs favourite acts even before he started composing music and is an artist he always wanted to work with. So, a few months ago, he got someone from his team to reach out to Guetta’s team. Before long the two were exchanging ideas and sending music back and forth.

There’s rarely been any time to sit back and soak in this sudden global success.

Eventually, once they had the production nailed down, Akon – who’s collaborated with Guetta on a few occasions – came to mind as the perfect feature. They got in touch and the music flowed, now here they are with a new single and a music video on the way.

Since its release in late May, the single has been growing steadily and Master KG seems convinced that it’s yet to scratch the surface of its potential. “I feel like my music has always been the kind that takes time to penetrate and make waves in certain places. It doesn’t blow up from the word go, the build up is slow and steady, but when it’s time for it to get popping it gets crazy. Currently the song is doing well, I’m loving how people are receiving the song. People are really supporting it.”

Back of the net

In early September last year, I attended a private writing camp by South African rapper Sho Madjozi in Limpopo, South Africa. In the room were a slew of talented writers and producers including Prince Benza who co-produced Jerusalema.

During our second night there, while Benza was leading the recording session in the main room as a dozen or so writers and producers were swaying to the beats, I saw on Instagram that football star Cristiano Ronaldo, the most followed person on Instagram, had posted a video on his page with Jerusalema as the soundtrack.

I immediately stood up to show Benza, who stared at the phone in disbelief. The room erupted as several camera torches flashed in his direction. After a few moments, he explained how Master KG had manifested this moment a few weeks prior. When asked about this moment, Master KG said: “This is one of the craziest things that could happen.”

“Before Ronaldo posted the song, I remember I was speaking to my friends and one of my managers… I [mentioned] the way the song is [performing] and the love it’s getting from soccer stars in Europe, and after seeing Ronaldo’s wife post it, I [felt] like he was going to post the song [too]. Everyone was like ‘are you sure?’ because he hardly posts music on his Instagram and I [insisted] this is going to happen. Then it happened,” he said.

“Everyone called me at the same time and was like, ‘Wena wa di loyile (You did some witchcraft). I just had a feeling with all the people posting the song around him that he’d fall in love with it.”

Apart from this special moment, Master KG also revelled in the number of views he’s amassed on YouTube. “Never mind 400 million, just reaching 100 million views on YouTube to me was crazy. Growing up, I watched guys all over the world doing it and I always asked myself ‘how do they do it, is this possible?’… Not knowing that one day I’d also be on that list. That’s been mind-blowing for me. Every time I go on YouTube and see those numbers I always go crazy, it’s unbelievable.”

There’s rarely been any time to sit back and soak in this sudden global success. Despite the global coronavirus pandemic, he’s been globetrotting almost nonstop for the past year. “I’m busy working on my project. Even now while I’m in Europe I’m busy making music. It’s not just promo it’s also studio sessions every day making music because I want to drop a project this year. I’m busy working hard to try and make it happen before the year ends.”

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