Witch Doctor: problematic song, problematic imagery, flawless choreography

Remembering the six bangers from Jump Jam: Volume One

Before Zumba, before Just Dance, before it was cool again to move in public group settings, there was Jump Jam. Madeleine Chapman reflects.

Jump Jam entered the lives of New Zealand kids in 2001, a year filled with historic cultural movements. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released in 2001; Frodo and Sam introduced themselves in The Fellowship of the Ring in 2001. But the cultural touchstone that truly complements Jump Jam’s beginnings in 2001 is the American Music Awards where Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera wore matching double denim.

Jump Jam is double denim for every New Zealander*; enjoyed shamelessly by children, looked down on by the cool kids, forgotten for a number of years, then finally appreciated as an adult when everyone wishes they had the confidence to pull it off.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the first notes of the Coconut Song blasted out across school courts throughout the land, and dozens of songs have been added to the Jump Jam playlist. But there are only six originals, all of which have stood the test of time, nostalgically if not culturally (‘Witch Doctor’, anyone?).

Here, today, we appreciate the six songs that provided the soundtrack to our primary school years. May we never forget their lyrics, or the four moves that accompanied them, for as long as we live.

*if that New Zealander is under the age of 30 and didn’t go to one of the few, mostly rural, schools without the first Jump Jam CD.

‘Coconut’ – Smile.dk

It was a strong early 2000s energy for a bunch of children in the South Pacific to dance to a song called ‘Coconut’, sung by a dreadlocked Swedish pop duo called Smile.dk. Regardless, it was fun, it had big movements, and it had an approximation of a bongo drum. What more could you want?

Of the six originals, ‘Coconut’ allowed for those kids with rhythm to show they actually had rhythm. The moves were simple enough, but like any island-themed song and dance, a little hip action never went unnoticed. If, like me, you did not have rhythm, ‘Coconut’ worked fine as a pleasant but boring set of moves.

This incredibly budget video has 370,000 views.

Fitness grade: A-. Lots of high knees and full-body movements going on.

Best move: That little booty shake at the end of the chorus. Oh, how we would laugh. Oh, how every young teacher would do that move way too seriously.

‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ – Baha Men

As the newest song on the original disc, ‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ should’ve been everyone’s favourite. But, unfortunately, it was still in the zone of being just old enough to be way overplayed and therefore hated, and not quite old enough to be liked again. Plus it had animal sounds in it which get old quickly.

(Note: I just played the song out loud on my laptop and my mum, eating cereal at 3pm and without looking up, said “I think that’s a stupid song”. So that’s settled then.)

‘Who Let The Dogs Out’ was hectic as. Scissor running, dog paws, kids actually barking. Honestly, a mess. But it was a dream for that one kid at your school who thought they were a dog/cat and would bark at you or lick the backs of their hands. You know the one, every school had one. For that kid, this song was the best. For everyone else, it was mayhem.

Exercise grade: A. Those sideways star jump things were a killer, even for kids.

Best move: The sideways star jump thing. Have to respect an advanced move.

‘Kotahitanga’ – Hinewehi Mohi & Jaz Coleman

Combining house-adjacent dance moves and haka is truly admirable and formed an iconic Kiwi duo. One may not think ‘Kotahitanga’ is a pop dance song but, thanks to Jump Jam, if it ever played in a club there’d be a lot of synchronised movement happening.

The boys always loved this one because of all the “aue”s and “hi”s. If nothing else, it was incredibly cathartic and almost acted as a form of vocal meditation. Going hundies on a haka-house remix at 9:30 in the morning was a great stress reliever for anxious eight-year-olds.

Exercise grade: A. The movements aren’t that fast and are pretty simple but technically, those haka moves would all be done at full-body tense, and that’s a workout.

Best move: The “hi” of course.

‘The Candy Man’ – Sammy Davis Jr

No primary school-aged child post-2000 knew who Sammy Davis Jr was but everyone knew Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately as great as that movie is, ‘The Candy Man’ is hardly a dance hit. In a Jump Jam context, it was the warm-up song. It literally starts with spoken word: “Alright everybody, gather ‘round. The candy man is here…..I’m the candy man wooooo”. For those who couldn’t dance, learning the monologue at the beginning of this song was a great chance to show you had other skills.

Honestly, I think this was everyone’s least favourite song simply because all the others were such bops. And because there was a bunch of sidestepping back and forth, if some kids decided to conscientiously object to movement, there would be collisions.

Fitness grade: C. It’s an arm-heavy workout, to be sure. Bar the sidestepping, it was perfect for the lazy kids.

Best move: The sidestep window-wiper hands in the chorus were admittedly pretty good.

Keep On Movin’ – Five

Much like ‘The Candy Man’, this song doesn’t exactly scream dance. So, much like ‘The Candy Man’, it was used as a warm-up song. There were actually quite a few different moves in this one compared to the other numbers, meaning it was the song most kids got confused during and kinda just gave up. Front steps, back steps, side steps, walking in a circle, and squats? Keep on movin’ right out of here, thanks.

Exercise grade: B+. Lots of surface area covered in this workout but all done at a pedestrian pace. A steady jam if ever there was one.

Best move: It’s basic but I always did enjoy walking around in circles.

‘Witch Doctor’ – Cartoons

Is this song problematic? Yes. The chorus, a series of nonsensical mutterings, is supposed to be the language of an African witch doctor, so more than a little bit racist. Did this song also have the best dance moves of all the Jump Jams songs? Yes.

Ringing any bells? (Youtube: Jump Jam)

When people think of Jump Jam now they think of ‘Witch Doctor’. It’s by far the most popular of the originals and unsurprisingly so. The song itself is an annoying earworm that you’ll now have stuck in your head for the rest of the day, and the moves became muscle memory so quickly I still know them 15 years later.

(Fun fact: Dave Seville, the writer of “Witch Doctor”, also created Alvin and the Chipmunks. Do with that information what you will.)

Exercise grade: A+. Fast, fluid, and a mental workout too for those who could never quite get the order down.

Best move: Obviously the whole chorus is iconic but in my most humble opinion, the cowboy-slash-line dancing move from the instrumental bridge is hugely underrated.

Brett Fairweather, the creator of Jump Jam, features in episode three of Scratched, a new web series that finds and celebrates the lost sporting legends of Aotearoa. Watch his episode here.

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