Remember those ‘African’ lyrics in Lionel Richie’s hit ‘All Night Long’? Yeah, they’re just gibberish.

At Tuesday night’s White House dinner “on the occasion of the U.S.-Africa Leaders summit,” hundreds of diplomatic VIPs will dine on aged American beef spiced with chermoula, sip trendy Virginia wine (religion permitting) and be entertained by the vocal stylings of Alabama’s own Lionel Richie.

The one thing the White House’s foreign guests won’t do? Understand what Richie is actually singing about in his 1983 hit “All Night Long.”

Although most of the Caribbean-influenced track’s lyrics make complete sense (who can argue with “raise the roof and have some fun”?), it’s during the song’s break when things get a little dicey.

Tom bo li de say de moi ya
Yeah jambo jumbo
Way to parti’ we goin’
Oh jambali
Tom bo li de say de moi ya
Yeah jumbo jumbo

“Jambo” means “hello” in Swahili, a language spoken throughout southeast Africa. But the rest (save the pidgin-ish “Way to parti’ we goin’”) is gibberish.

“That is a wonderful joke,” 65-year-old Richie told the New York Post in a 2013 interview.

Looking for some African phrases to complement “All Night Long’s” global-inspired beat, Richie said he called up a friend who worked at the United Nations. The singer-songwriter was informed that there are “101 African dialects” and that it would take weeks to get just a few words. Instead of waiting, he did what so many cool kids have done before him and made up his own lingo.

“Somewhere in that made-up language,” Richie continued, “I am actually saying something, because even to this day, we’ll play India, and someone will tell me, ‘Yes, you’ve touched on certain words in [our language].’ As long as I am not cursing you out, I am going in the right direction.”

Mystery solved.

More from The Reliable Source:

Lionel Richie will perform at the Africa ‘state dinner’ at the White House

A playlist in honor of this week’s Africa summit in D.C.

The first lady of Cameroon and her hair have touched down in D.C.

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Helena Andrews is the co-author of The Reliable Source. Follow her on Twitter @helena_andrews, and send your hot tips, sightings, and gossip to reliablesource@washpost.com.
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Emily Heil · August 5, 2014