Boom Shakalaka

A mysterious phrase. What does it mean?

I remember this phrase fondly from my childhood days playing NBA Jam on the Sega Genesis. When a player (such as my then-favorite, Horace Grant) would do a monster slam dunk, the announcer would often shout "BOOM SHAKALAKA!" I never knew what this meant, exactly, but it whispered of something profound, primal, and powerful.

The earliest use of this phrase appears to be the 1967 hit song "I Want to Take You Higher" by Sly and the Family Stone. In between verses the Family mysteriously sings "Boom Shakalakalaka Boom Shakalakalaka." Perhaps listeners extrapolated a hint of African pride in pseudo-tribal utterings. Or maybe Sly and company were just unconsciously echoing the witch doctor - ting tang wala wala bing bang. Was this the perpetuation of an insideous racialism, or just jubilant nonsense-singing?

A few years later, blaxploited 70's girl group The Honey Cone would use the phrase in their 1971 hit Stick Up, and in 1980, British punk band The Specials would echo the words in their anti-nuke hit, "Man at the C & A." In more recent years, the phrase seems to have found its way into hip hop songs, either sampled from the original, or incorporated into new choruses. Ah, sampling - the next best thing to immortality.

Not surprisingly, given their penchant for appropriating all things American, the phrase has migrated into the Engrish choruses of Japanese pop songs, and even appears in the title of a Dragonball GT episode. Even more oddly, the phrase appears in track 7 of the soundtrack to the 1996 film Muppet Treasure Island. In a piece written by Hans Zimmer of all people, the two words are chanted over and over for one minute and twenty-one seconds against an orchestra slowly building to crescendo.

But perhaps most strangely, "Shakalaka Boom Boom" is the name of an children's television show on India's Star Network about a young boy, Sanju, and his magical pencil. The currents of popular culture flow dark and deep.

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