Monday, March 12, 2012

Che Che Kule - Origin, Lyrics, & Videos

Edited by Azizi Powell

Shay Shay Koolay

Posted by ElanaMichele/ November 03, 2008

[South African children performing "Kye Kye Kule".

This post features several text versions & videos of the song which may be most widely known worldwide as "Che Che Kule".

"Che Che Kule" (Akan language: "Kye Kye Kule") is a traditional children's game song from Ghana, West Africa. Although children in the United States have learned this game as a "head & shoulders, knees & toes" touching game, it also was (or is) played in Ghana as a ring chasing game similar to "duck duck goose". I'm not sure how this game was traditionally played or which actions that accompanied the song are the oldest.

Both "Che Che Kule" and "Kye Kye Kule" are pronounced "Shay Shay KOO-lay".

Here's a comment from a guest on a discussion thread that I started on "Che Che Kule":
"Subject: RE: Kye Kye Kule {Che Che Kulay}
Date: 03 Feb 10 - 06:43 PM

Im from ghana and I have to say that Kofi is a ghana name and alot of the words in the song i can understand. I have been singing this song since I was a child. My mother knows it, my grandmother knows it and my great grand mother knows It. I recently caught the spanish verson on the radio and started singing along right away. I was very surprised someone else from another part of the world had made a song with my childhood play song. The song has been around for a least a few centuries Its not surprising that there have been different versions made." [Hereafter given as Mudcat "Che Che Kule"]

Editor: "Kofi" is an Akan (language/ethnic group from Ghana, West Africa and Côte d’Ivoire) personal name that means "male born on Friday". Notice the various versions of "kofi sa" that are found in the examples given below.

Click information on Akan day names.

[UPDATE May 4, 2015]
Here are two other comments from that Mudcat discussion thread:
Subject: RE: Kye Kye Kule {Che Che Kulay}
From: Azizi
Date: 26 Jan 08 - 10:25 AM
Here's an excerpt of the email that Quarcoo [a Ghanaian man] sent to * about Kye Kye Kule in response to my questions to him about this song:

"I made some enquiries about this song. It is a Ga game but because of our school system which promotes ethnic fusion it has become a national thing. My dad couldn't really tell me the meaning of the words, but said that the words: "Salanga" is a name used by northerners [members of ethnic groups who live in the Northern part of Ghana] (could be Dagomba, Frafra or Gonja) so Kofi Salanga is a northern boy. And when singing the song,with the pronouncement of every sentence you touch your body in ascending and descending order. When you start "kyekye kule" (you touch your shoulders with both hands and those responding kyekye kule will do likewise, continue to your waist, knees and the toes) and this continues till you reach your toes and then you start all over again.

Kyekye kule on national t.v (called Ghana T.V or GTV) was a children's programme, and it was so popular that I never for once missed an episode. It was hosted by an old teacher. It was filled with several other Ghanaian games"...
* is my cultural website that I retired. Quakoo later changed the spelling of his name to Kwaku on that Mudcat forum. He wrote to share that "kye" is the Akan spelling for that word, but he didn't indicate what, if anything, "kye" meant.

"Ga" is the name of an ethnic group in Ghana, West Africa. The Northern region is one of 10 regions in Ghana. Visit and other websites for more information about Ghana, West Africa.

Kye Kye Kule {Che Che Kulay}
From: Azizi
Date: 15 May 09 - 02:22 PM

Here is an email about "Kye Kye Kule" that I received today from a Ghanaian woman, Abena Gyebi:

"Sorry, cocoyam, You see I have always known the Ghanaian children's song Kye kye kule. The Kum adende or Kum aye dei was always part of it. I do not believe it is a later addition; I mean I'm into my fifties and I've always known it with the Kum. Maybe it's because the people you talked to were male. I guess when we as girls were playing kye kye kule they were busy playing football or so.(Or hunting rats?-:)

'Kum' apart from its Akan meaning - to kill- is also the sound made when something falls heavily on the ground,like a child falling or something dropping.

The other version of the game was,instead of running behind the circle and tapping someone on the shoulder, one bent down and dropped a piece of cloth behind one of those sitting in the circle. It was supposed to be done so artfully that the one with the piece of cloth did not notice it.The singing and clapping then got more exciting as the runner got closer and closer to where she had dropped the piece of cloth. If the sitting person still did not notice the cloth, she got a 'boo' or a smack on the shoulder for being inattentive. On the other hand, if she got alerted, she would then run as fast as possible chasing the first runner until the first runner took her place in the circle. Then she would take over the kye kye kule and look for another person behind whom she would drop the piece of cloth. This version of kye kye kule was an adaptation of another children's game we called 'anto akyire'"
Abena Gyebi is correct that the only Ghanaians who have given me information about this song are males. I'm very grateful that she has shared this performance information and information about the meaning of the word "Kum" in that song.

Example #1
Kye kule
Kye kye kule.
Kye kye kofi sa x2
kofi salanga x2
Salatilanga x2
kum ayede , kumayede , kumayede
[Source: information given to Azizi Powell by request from Ghanaian man whose name I don't recall; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1980s]

Performance: Hide & Seek game
For more information on the performance information & the meaning of some of the words to this song, visit Mudcat "Che Che Kule"

Example #2
Kyekye kofi sa x2
Kofi salanga x2
Salatilanga x2
kum ayede , kumayede , kumayede
[Source: information given to Azizi Powell by request from Nana Kwesi Afriya, from Ghana (Akan) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 2004]

Performance: Ring Game (similar to how "Duck Duck Goose" is performed in the USA)
For more information on the words and the performance information that was shared with me, visit Mudcat "Che Che Kule"]

Example #3
Che Che Kule
Che Che Kofisa
Kofisa Langa
Langa te Lange
Kum Adende
Kum Adende. Kum.
[Source: Pittsburgh Public School District, elementary music song book, mid 1990s]

Performance instruction: a children's movement game similar to how "Head & Shoulders" is played in the USA

Example #4
Che Che Koolay
(an echo song from Africa)

Che Che Koolay , (Che Che Koolay)
Che Che Kofinsa, (Che Che Kofinsa)
Kofinsa langa, (Kofinsa langa)
Kata che langa, (Kata che langa)
Koom a dayn-day, (Koom a dayn-day),
Koom a dayn-day, (Koom a dayn-day),
Koom a dayn-day - HEY!

[Performance Activity]
Pat your head,
Wiggle your fingers,
Give your leg a shake
Pat your tummy
Bow down & welcome the day.

It appears that "Kye Kye Kule" is the only African song, or one of very few African songs that is included in music books or otherwise taught in various American schools (as per text examples and YouTube videos online, and as per my personal experience. The version given above as Example #4 appears to be the version that is most often known by Americans (in the United States).


Puerto Rican musician Willie Colón (born in the USA) and Puerto Rican vocalist Hector Lavoe recorded a version of "Che Che Cole" on several of his albums, including their 1967 "El Malo" album and the album "Cosa Nuestra". A video of that version is found below. Here's the chorus of that Salsa version:

Che che colé, (que bueno e'………)
Che che cofriza, (muerto e' la risa……)
Coqui saranga (ay viene la malanga……)
Caca chilanga, (viene de catanga……)
Ayeiyeee, (a ver e' tu lo ve………)

[as posted by Guest, ada in December 2008 on Mudcat: "Che Che Kule"]

for Spanish words to the complete song as performed by Marc Anthony. That version includes the lines:
"Che che colé,
que bueno e
Che che cofiza,
muerto 'e la risa"

I observed one example of children's (African American girls) foot stomping cheer called "Shay Shay Kukalay" (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1987. I have also collected several versions of foot stomping cheers called "J. J. Kool Aid". I believe that these cheers were based on the Ghanaian children's song "Kye Kye Kule" (although that doesn't appear to be known by those children). According to comments posted in that Mudcat thread on "Che Che Kule" that I started in 2008, Americanized versions of "Che Che Kule" were performed in various schools in the USA as early as the 1970s, often by African drumming & dance groups. It therefore isn't all that surprising that children would have created a cheer based on their memory of that song. Here's one example of those foot stomping cheers:

Soloist #1: Jay Jay Kukalay
Group: Jay Jay Kukalay
Soloist: #1 Salesah lahndah
Group: Salesah lahndah
Soloist #1: Step back, Shalanda (or "back, back Shalonda:)
Group: Step back, Shalanda
Soloist: #1 Oosh, my lover boy!
Group Oosh, my lover boy! (or "Oosh Oosh, my lover boy")
Soloist #1: I’m callin on,
I’m callin on
I’m callin on Rhonda!

[Immediately repeat the cheer from the beginning with a new soloist. Substitute the name or nickname of that soloist in the line "I'm callin on ____". Continue until every member of the group has had one turn as the soloist].
-African American girls, ages around 6-12 years (Lillian Taylor Summer Camp, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, 1987) audio recorded by Tazi Powell, transcribed by Azizi Powell 1999

I collected similar version of that foot stomping cheer from the late 1980s Washington D.C. entitled "J. J. Koolaid".

Unfortunately, I have not yet found any videos of Ghanaian children singing or playing any "Kye Kye Kule" games. However, here's a sound file of the group Osibisa. I believe that it was this group's recording of "Kye Kye Kule" which first popularized that song outside of Ghana:

Example #1:
Osibisa - Che Che Kule (Heads)

Uploaded by Feralbt on Sep 16, 2008

Osibisa is a band, founded in London in the year 1969 by four African and three Caribbean musicians, who peaked in popularity in the 1970s. They were one of the first widely popular African bands.

Osibisa was founded by Ghanaian musicians. Click for information about this Afro-Pop band.


Fante (Fanti) is a language that is spoken by a group of the Akan people of Ghana. The Ashanti (Asante) may be the best known Akan people in the United States due to their production of colorful kinte cloth as well as their Sankofa symbol and other adinkra symbols.

"Highlife" is a type of music that originated in Ghana in the 1900s. Click for more information about Ghana. Also, click for information about "highlife".

Video #2: "Kye Kye Kule" performed by American children:

Che che koolay

Posted by rclcdj / June 04, 2009

"2009 P2 African Feast"

Video #3: Shay Shay Koolay
This video is posted at the top of this page.

"Kye Kye Kule" performed by South African school children.

"Thina, Noroza, and Hope lead Shay Shay Koolay in the field behind Sivuyiseni. Check out"

Video #4: a Salsa version of "Che Che Kule"

Hector Lavoe and Willie Colon- "Che Che Cole" and "Machito"

Posted by jnyc101 / January 23, 2007

Thanks for visiting pancocojams.

Viewer comments are welcome.


  1. I love the version a group called Antibalas does. It wonderful. I am not surprized that che che kule made it all over the world. west african slaves were sent to puerto rico and then to north and south america. There are alot of west african traditions in north america. we may not always know thats where they come from but its true none the less.

  2. LREM Murrell, thanks for your comment. I apologize for taking so long to respond. I just saw your comment this morning.:o(

    While I'm not surpised that cultural elements of African culture can be found in the USA and other parts of the "new world", I am delighted when the source/s of specific African songs or chants or other customs can be documented as is the case with "che che kule".

    Thanks for sharing information about the Antibales version of this song. Here's a link to a sound file of that version:

    Best wishes!

  3. The first three lines (nonsense to this white K-3rd grader) were burned into my brain by, as I recall, a stern African American music teacher. Very catchy tune - at least the first 3 lines, the rest only rings dim bells. When, for whatever reason, our school got a new music teacher for 4th grade, I thought that was the last I'd hear of it. Imagine my surprise when, 30 years later, my kindergartener first child starts singing it at home. Took me a day of poking around to land here, but many thanks for explaining portions of what had been complete nonsense - but catchy nonsense!

    1. Greetings, Anonymous Feb. 19, 2013!

      Thanks for your comment here and your longer comment that was sent to my cocojams website.

      I think that it's sad that there appears to be so few African songs that are taught in schools in the USA. That said, "Che Che Kule" is a good song to be added to those school's music curriculums. Yet it seems to me that the presentation about that song would be so much richer if music teachers or other teachers (for instance "social studies" teachers if that subject is even still taught) included the information that the song "Che Che Kule" came from a particular population in Ghana, West Africa AND that this song was picked up and changed by Salsa performers in Cuba and elsewhere. Such information would not only introduce children to the Salsa genre of music, but also impress upon them that while there may be a so called "standard version" of a particular song, people can use their creativity to create additional versions of that song, and even change the genre in which a song is performed.

      Also, regarding your comment about a canonical (standard) version of Che Che Kule, It also seems to me that there may be several canonical (standard) versions to this song depending on the nation one is in.

      And with regard to your question in your longer comment that was sent to my website, I think that it's likely that some of the words to this song have no meaning.

      You may be interested in this pancocojams post about another Ghanaian children's song which also appears to be taught to children in some USA schools: Videos Of The Ghanaian Song "Sansa Kroma"

      Thanks again!

  4. I live in Hungary, Central Europe, and I first heard this song in the 90's from my English teacher who was a native Canadian.. we kids enjoyed it really much although we had no idea what this song is all about. I still remember the entire song to this day. It was interesting to track back its origins, I didn't even know how to spell the words but thanks to google I could soon find out and start searching for it on the web... and I'm surprised to see how well-known and popular song it actually is! And thanks to you now I know where it comes from! I'm going to teach it my kids one day :)

    1. Thanks for your comment, anonymous!

      I'm glad to know another place in the world where "Che Che Kule" is sung.

      The internet is great for disseminating information and connecting people together regardless of their race, religion, or nationality.

  5. Greetings Azizi
    I first heard that song by the bad, Osibisa in the early 1970s. I sing it from time to time. I would love to know what it means. Do you have a translation or know where I can find one?

    Mushroom Montoya

    1. Greetings, Mushroom Montoya.

      Unfortunately I don't know the lyrics to Osibisa's "Che Che Kule" song.

      As a result of your comment, I added more information to the post above about how "kye kye kule" is or at least was played in Ghana.

      Thanks again!

  6. I remember back in 1974 being in camp in Madrid with kids from the Spanish Sahara. They sang the Che Che Kule all the time. I had no idea it is a popular song and unit now I haven't cross again with it. I can sing it, 40 year after. I remember those boys, who knows what ever happened to them after the independence from Spain and morocco annexation.

    1. Greetings, Unknown!

      Thanks for sharing that memory. It's amazing how songs, rhymes, and chants get travel throughout the world and how some examples stay with us a long time. I wonder how children from the Spanish Sahara learned the song Che Che Kule.

      Your comment motivates me to learn more about the Spanish Saharan and Moroccan history. Also, was there some time of cultural program in 1974 that brought children from the Spanish Sahara to Madrid?

      Thanks again for your comment!

    2. Here's the link to the Wikipedia page on the Spanish Sahara:

  7. I am a Ghanaian living in Norway and i was literally in shock when i heard a Norwegian football team singing Che Che Kule after winning their football championship and jumping to the song this morning on the news that i decided to have a look on the internet to see how popular the song actually is. To my amazement, i found out it is being sang in every corner of the world. Che Che kule is one of the first songs we learnt as kids in nursery growing up in Ghana, and it was so popular it was an everyday play activity. To my understanding it has been around for ages and sang by our fathers and great grandfathers. I was privileged to have sang it too and played with it as a kid and some 30+ years later hear it on Norwegian TV. Really made my morning and thanks Azizi for your time doing this research here and throwing more light on the song.

    1. Greetings, Franknaros.

      Thank you for sharing your remembrances of "Che Che Kule" and your confirmation of what I've read and been told (by Ghanaians) that this is a very old song.

      You wrote that "Che Che Kule" was popular as an everyday play activity. I'd love you (and any other Ghanaian) to share how they played it.

      I tried to find a YouTube video of the Norwegian football (soccer) team singing "Che Che Kule", but haven't found it yet. But that search led me to videos of Ghana football (soccer) team singing prior to playing in the World Cup 2014 games. I'm working on a post that features those videos and will add a link here when it's published.

      Thanks again, Franknaros!

    2. Here's a link to a three part series that I published on Ghanaian jama songs:

      The links to Part II (which focuses on Ghana's football team singing jamas) and Part III (school jamas) are provided in that first post. From watching videos, reading comments to videos, and reading one online article about jamas that I found, my sense is that jamas are religious or secular songs that a group sings to bolster group morale and foster group unity. Is this correct?

      I'd love for Franknaros and/or other Ghanaians to share information, comments, and examples of these songs.

      Thanks again!

  8. This is so interesting! I'm part of a youth theatre group in California and our tradition is to play this game as a warmup before the first performance of every show we do. I've been playing this game my whole life and never knew what it was. The only difference is at the end instead of counting we say "shake hienday, shake hienday!"

    1. Greetings, anonymous November 14, 2015 at 7:58 PM.

      Thanks for sharing the information that your theatre group uses "Che Che Kule" as a warmup before your performances. If you read this, would you share what actions your group does. For instance, did you clap your hands and/or the hands of people standing on either side of you, and did you shake your butt when you sung "shake hienday"?

      The words "shake hienday" are a form of folk processing (folk etymology) where familiar words or utterances take the place of unfamiliar words or utterances. I wrote "utterances" because "hienday" doesn't mean anything.

      Thanks again!