Listening to the World Cup

With ESPN’s broadcast of the World Cup’s opening match, my fellow tweeters began to crack jokes about The Lion King. We imagined Rafiki calling the matches, or Mufasa, and half expected the referees to lift up the Jabulani to announce the arrival of the New Ball. Most folks simply observed, “I feel like I am watching The Lion King.”
There is a good reason for this. The score used by ESPN to frame its coverage was written by Lisle Moore. The Utah composer gave us muscular music for a sporting event, upbeat music for a media event organized around putting us all in the mood to buy a shirt, a ball, or a Coke. Layered over the orchestral swells are the oddly familiar sounds of African voices, or, I should say, African-sounding voices.  Africa is scored here as a noble landscape, peopled by a unified chorus, singing together in a harmonic convergence of tribal cultures.
“With the exception of the African choir,” reports the Salt Lake Tribune, “all of the music is performed by Utah musicians.” (“ESPN Turns to Utah for World Cup Music“) The “African choir” lending this score a sense of location is actually made up with members of The Lion King’s Broadway cast. The African-sounding choir from New York City was hired to sonically channel an idea of African authenticity keyed to the ears of ESPN’s American audience. This is of course true of all scores produced by the World Cup broadcasting networks as they reach for music their imagined audience will understand. Without a doubt, we are hearing not African music but (to invoke philosopher Valentin Mudimbe) a musical “Idea of Africa.”
In the mix of the music draped over the 2010 World Cup are more specific strains — the audible sound of a continent being ripped off. This is nowhere more obvious than “The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM) Song,” “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),”  sung by Shakira and Freshlyground, a South African Afro-fusion band.
As pointed out by numerous bloggers, the global pop hit has a clear relationship to a Cameroonian military song, Zangaléwa, popularized by Golden Sounds in 1986. “Waka Waka” doesn’t just borrow from “Zangaléwa” — listen to the two and you see that the chorus to “Waka Waka” is a direct use of “Zangaléwa.”First, Golden Sounds’ 1986 hit (watch Golden Sounds’ Youtube video for Zangaléwa).


And Shakira/Freshlyground (watch Shakira’s Waka Waka Youtube video.)


In his article “Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights: Shakira, Zangalewa and the World Cup Anthem,” Dibussi Tande places this appropriation within a longer history of intellectual theft.  He begins with perhaps the most infamous case of an international pop star absorbing the work of an African musician, Michael Jackson’s use of a hit song by the Cameroonian makossa master, Manu Dibango. The words and melody of “Soul Makossa” provide the distinctive sound of Thriller’s opening track. Dibango sued Jackson and won. Incredibly, given the topic here, Dibango’s song was the B-side to Movement Ewondo, a song the artist composed for the 1972 African Cup of Nations (hosted by Cameroon and won by Congo-Brazzaville). It’s a frenetic football score in which strings seems to scurry underneath Dibango’s expressive and light-footed sax.


Jackson’s appropriation of recognizable lyrics and melodies pales in comparison with what Shakira and Sony music pull off with “Waka Waka.” Given their use of a song known to a generation of Cameroonians, it’s surprising that they thought they could get away with it. (See WFMU’s record of their efforts to figure out the song’s genealogy.)  But, of course, that is how entitlement works–you don’t notice the theft of that which you feel is already yours.


Tande, a digital activist, points out that the origins of the song were only acknowledged by FIFA, Shakira, et al. in response to online activism by those who were horrified to see it stolen in this way.  Under pressure from the Cameroonian musicians and their advocates, FIFA gingerly inserted a statement declaring that “Waka Waka” is a “remix” of the Golden Sounds hit. This appropriation of African music into a musical idea of Africa is a never-ending story. Tande reminds us that

for decades, African artists have had their works plagiarized by the West with little or no compensation or acknowledgment. The most memorable example of the theft of the intellectual rights of an African artist is that of Solomon Popoli Linda who in 1939 wrote the song “Mbube” and received 10 shillings (less than $US 2) for his efforts. The song which later became the pop hit The Lion Sleeps Tonight was reinterpreted by dozens of American artists without Linda or his family receiving a dime….he died penniless. In 1995, the Lion Sleeps Tonight earned an estimated $15 million dollars just for its use in the movie Lion King —a movie which has since grossed about 800 million USD worldwide. Linda’s descendants sued Walt Disney for 1.5 million dollars with the full backing of the South African government. Disney settled for an undisclosed sum just as the trial was about to begin. (Scribbles from the Den)

This is not something the company is eager for its consumers to know–behind that feel-good African sound is the noise of the gear-works of colonial exploitation, turning.
Perhaps more interesting in terms of the spin an artist can put on the same song is K’naan’s “Wavin Flag,” now ubiquitous as the official song for Coca-Cola’s 2010 World Cup advertising campaign, as well as the soundtrack for EA’s game 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. The song began as rousing melody tracking fantasies of pre-colonial glory and postcolonial resistance:
So many wars, settling scores,
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor,
I heard them say, love is the way,
Love is the answer, that’s what they say,
But look how they treat us,
Make us believers,
We fight their battles, then they deceive us,
Try to control us, they couldn’t hold us
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers.
But we struggling, fighting to eat
And we wondering, when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait for that faithful day
It’s not far away…
The song’s chorus then repeats the following wistful thought, “when I get older I will be stronger/They’ll call me freedom just like a wavin’ flag/And then it goes back, and then it goes back, and then it goes back.” While supported by anthem-like muscle, the song is hardly the sort of thing one imagines selling Coca-Cola and animated video games.   All of the above lines were thus removed from the World Cup song. The refrain “And then it goes back, and then it goes back” remains, however, like a phantom limb. It describes the movement of a flag, literally, but without the context of the song’s original words the phrase has lost its sense. For within the original lyrics, the refrain describes the movement of nationalist impulses toward and away from dreams of freedom.  Those words promise both that “if we go forward, we also go back” and that power “goes back” to the people from whom it was stolen. We also have the very dense
reference to Buffalo Soldiers–to all-black regiments in the US Army. These soldiers supported the federal government in the Indian Wars–the reference perhaps accidentally underscores the colonial twist embedded in that phrase “moving forward.” Perhaps I over-read in K’Naan’s lyrics a story about settler colonialism, but it does not seem like a stretch to say that in the story of his participation in its revision for (more) commercial use, we see something of the problem of the World Cup interface.
Mumbai-based writer Supriya Nair, in an intervention that nods to “Wavin’ Flag” with its title “when I get older,” warns liberal American pundits to check their impulses to read African teams an allegory for Africa itself:
Where you see models of correlation between dictators and football victories, others would see the run of play as the rest of the world knows it: of a history of possession dominated by those who wrote the rules, of enforced migrations and unwilling recruitments; of contests that we must always resist seeing as wars, because they are only fought – and won – on the field (Treasons, Stratagems, and Spoils)
We would do well to listen other music, music not co-opted by the FIFA and its corporate tentacles. Nomadic Wax produced  “World Cup,” a 12 minute track in which sixteen emcees from Africa, Europe, and the Americas contribute 16 bars of lyrics speaking to and about the 2010 World Cup. The grimmest lines come from South African emcee Emile YX, who sums up the imperial relation between the FIFA that profits from the World Cup and the South Africa that pays for it:
The attention world gathers for the wrong reason
It’s the long cold-hearted capitalist season
Where basic human freedoms violated for money
In the land of gold, we chase a gold cup, that’s funny
Suddenly money changes “never & never again”
Never say never, the same money’s running everything
Where Khoi & San bodies hung, impaled and battered
Is where they built the stadium & 4 billion got Blattered
But we’ll foot the bill, just to foot their ball
On the graces of our ancestors, how can we stand tall?
Here Hegemony erases the memory of the San
And lands send players to get played by the man
This scams like ‘Yes we can tans [Obama]’ distracting nations
Subduing revolution with media mind occupation
When FIFA’s moneymaking machine moves on
Has Africa finally the World’s respect won?
Emile YX boils down a critique launched by activists and academics across the country (see World Cup Watch and Patrick Bond’s slide show “A Political Economy of the 2010 World Cup.”)  As MCs toggle between bragging about their skills on the pitch and on the mike, between love for their national team and critical reads like the above, “World Cup” distills both the desire and the danger of looking for redemption in FIFA’s tournament.
Perhaps no team bore the burden of redemptive hope more than Ghana. Cheery anthems abound in its stands. Ghana is home to “hiplife,” a hybrid movement that combines the sounds of up-tempo Ghanaian highlife, hip hop, and pop.  Ghanaian artists working in this genre regularly make use of Jama songs (football chants).  In his 2006 survey of hiplife and World Cup music, Chale describes Jama as a form of “public music”–songs known, sung, and, in essence, “owned” by the Ghanaian public (Museke: home of the African music fan). Jama is woven throughout much hiplife, and hiplife feeds back into Jama as fans break into songs that have been recast by their favorite MCs and pop artists.  Ghanaian musicians regularly produce new anthems for their national squad, called the Black Stars.
For the 2006 World Cup, the group G-Force produced a whole album celebrating the team (Faith in the Black Star). That year, an all-star lineup of hiplife musicians produced “Oseiye” as the Black Star’s official theme song in the lead up to the 2008 Africa Cup of Nations (watch “All Stars” youtube video for “Oseiye”).  In “Blackstar 2010,” Trosky Blackman sings for the Ghanaian squad over a bouncy synth backdrop, the song coalescing in the familiar “Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé, Olé.”  (Listen to it here:

The genre migrates: London DJ Richy Pitch spent two years in Ghana and has produced a series of tracks with hiplife musicians including the amazing “Football Jama,” which mixes the crowd noise, drumming, and whistles of fans with Jama football chants, and rapid-fire football-centered lyrics from UK artists Sway and M3NSA, who imagine life as the captain of the team and its fans.  Kwabena Jones and the US-based MC M.anifest produced “Vuvuzela blackstars,” yet another celebration of the cruelly eliminated squad, via an appreciation of the unpopular noise trumpet.  M.anifest concludes that regardless of the results, “I know they heard us.”  Maybe.

Currently making the viral rounds is a comic dual, “African Vuvuzela vs Turkish Zurna,” produced by the Turkish football fan site Two stereotyped characters, one African and one Turkish, blow their horns–“Ali”‘s Zurna appears hopelessly quaint, until wins a crowd of chanting Turkish football fans swarm around him with drums.  Point taken, for the vuvuzela is removed from the world of “public music”: the person who plants their lips on it has opted instead for the world of plastic noise. And so unfolds the debate over the authenticity of the vuvuzela as an African sound (as asserted by FIFA’s Sepp Blatter). They are manufactured in China, andthe people in the stands of the World Cup don’t represent South African football culture. It is unfair to reduce the whole of any fan culture to what has Elina Shatkin aptly described as a “glorified kazoo.”
Vuvuzelas have been in US and Mexican stands for years,but in crowds much smaller than are packed into World Cup stadiums, which were scaled up from South Africa’s existing, more reasonable facilities. 17,000 people, some with drums, some with vuvuzelas, some with trumpets, makes one kind of aural experience–a cacophony in which song and noise can wrestle playfully. Sounded by audiences of 70,000 or more, however, the vuvuzela is a nightmare, a wasp’s nest of sonic anxiety, especially for networks broadcasting the tournament.
The vuvuzela does not communicate support, but affect itself–interest and anxiety, mostly.  A team attacks at a tense moment in the match, and the volume goes up. The horns throb when it feels like something important might happen, when it feels like a team might go up or down. It communicates intensity–a sonically disorienting sense of hope and alarm.
Radio and television production of World Cup matches must ride these waves of sonic attack. Sound editors balance the imperative that they communicate the audience’s volume (the aural effect of a packed stadium) with the need to create a watchable, listenable broadcast. The vuvuzela is the sound not of resistance, exactly, but of interference– the noise of a multitude that refuses the desire to hear a pretty African song.
Supriya.  “when i get older.”  Treasons, Stratagems, and Spoils.
Tande, Dibussi. “Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights.”  Scribbles from the Den.
Jennifer Doyle is the author of Sex Objects: Art and the Dialectics of Desire (Minnesota, 2006) and the queer feminist soccer blog, From A Left Wing. She teaches at the University of California, Riverside and lives (and plays) in Los Angeles.

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