Forty years ago — August 31, 1983 — Lionel Richie released what would become one of his signature songs, “All Night Long (All Night).” Richard Marx, then an unknown LA session musician, sang backup on the song, so he knows the real story behind all those foreign-sounding words in the middle section.
“It was me and a couple other singers on that song …. that’s me going, ‘All night, all night,'” Richard told ABC Audio. But when it came to the middle section, he and the other singers believed they were singing in the African language of Swahili.
As Richard explains, “We did that whole ‘Swahili’ chant in the middle of the song, which everybody knows — Tam bo li de say de moi ya/ Yeah, Jambo, Jambo/ Way to parti, o we goin’/ Oh, jambali — and Lionel … he was so meticulous about this particular thing. He made us sing it over and over and over to get it pronounced perfectly right.”
“So of course, when the session was over, I was like, ‘So what does that all translate back into English as?'” Richard recalls. “And [Lionel] went, ‘Well, “jambo” is “hello” in Swahili.’ And I went, ‘Yeah, what about the rest of it?'”
Richard reveals, “He’s like, ‘I made it all up. It’s gibberish.'”
Incidentally, Lionel is the one who gave Marx his big break. Lionel heard the demo tape Richard made in high school, tracked him down, told him he was talented, suggested he move to LA and then gave him work once he got there. In fact, Richard said he texts Lionel “periodically to thank him for my career.”
“All Night Long” is one of two #1 hits from Lionel’s album Can’t Slow Down; the other is “Hello.”
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