*Lionel Richie’s 4th solo single was his second to reach No. 1, and it happened on Nov. 12, 1983, with the help of some made up Swahili.
“I called the UN and said ‘I need something African for the breakdown in this song I’m writing,'” the former lead singer of The Commodores told the publication Q about the famous chant in his hit single “All Night Long,” from his second album Can’t Slow Down. “They informed me that there are thousands of different African dialects. I couldn’t believe it. One region doesn’t have any idea what the other is taking about. So, ‘Tambo liteh sette mo-jah!’? I made it up on the spot. Now I think that ‘Jambo’ might have a meaning in Swahili, but you gotta be careful because it might mean ‘welcome’ in one dialect and you might get your head cut off for saying it in another.”
The fabricated language was not the song’s biggest challenge. Richie told CNN that it took him about two months to write “All Night Long,” because, “I just couldn’t find the ending – I couldn’t find all night long to save my life. I had everything, the verses, the middle part, all the stuff. I just did not have all night long. It took me forever to find it. And finally one night, the heavens opened up and came through.”
Ironically, Jambo (or Hujambo) is Swahili for “Hello,” which would be the title of his next single from Can’t Slow Down to hit No. 1. Also real are the words “karamu” and “liming” in “All Night Long,” as in:
“We’re going to party, karamu, fiesta, forever,”
“We’re going to party, liming, fiesta, forever.”
“Karamu” is a Swahili word for a party accompanied by a feast, “liming” is a Caribbean term for getting together, and “fiesta,” of course, is Spanish for party. Using various words that reflect the ultimate turn-up was deliberate. Richie said he wanted to infuse the song with a festive, multicultural, Caribbean vibe. He told The Epoch Times: “I’m one of those guys that – I don’t look for something new. I look for what people do everyday. And I noticed that, anytime I would come on vacation, everybody who can rap is on vacation doing a calypso dance. Everybody who’s singing Opera, they conform to some form of calypso or some form of reggae. So when I went back to do ‘All Night Long’ it was very simple. All I had to do was find that beat that everybody dances to when they go on vacation.”
Shout out to the music video’s breakdancers Boogaloo Shrimp and Pop N Taco (seen at the top of the page). The pair, along with Shabba Doo, were also featured in Richie’s live performance of “All Night Long” to open the 1984 American Music Awards. Michael Jackson and his two dates, Brooke Shields and Emmanuel Lewis, were grooving along in the front row.
Fun Fact: Iraqis are obsessed with Lionel Richie, and with “All Night Long” in particular. It was playing as “a song of celebration” on the streets of Baghdad the night U.S. tanks rolled into the country after the city fell in 2003.
It was also vital for the morale of at least one National Guard unit that deployed to Iraq: