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Culture, Sport

The Globalisation of Ooga Booga

by Andy Davis / 06.05.2010

Another FIFA Disgrace. The Official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup is performed, wait for it, by a Columbian pop star who lives in Barbados. And while I think Shakira is both talented and hot, what is she doing singing the Official Song for the first World Cup on African soil? And while many of the World Cup optimists out there will point out that she’s backed by South Africa’s Freshlyground, all I’m saying is that, surely, it should be the other way around?

Now let’s dip into a bit of history. Blackface is that old school theatrical make-up popularised in the US in the late 19th century in theatrical minstrel shows, and came to represent and proliferate racist stereotypes about black people. It was the ultimate appropriation, exploitation and assimilation of African-American culture. It’s also the ultimate diss, that black people can’t even represent themselves.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that despite the marketing position of “the first blah blah on African soil” the FIFA World Cup is really just a pantomime of a celebration of everything African. So we’ve got a Columbian popstar singing the World Cup song and the FIFA PR machine has the audacity to say that, “with its rhythmical African sounds, the song represents the vitality and energy of the host continent.”

FIFA seems to have no real interest in allowing the World Cup to be a showcase for African and South African culture and talent. Rather, it’s more of the same bankable globalised shit. Take a look at the top down approach they took when selecting the artists for the Official FIFA World Cup Kick Off Celebration. Only 3 South African bands representing… And the most credible and representative amongst them, Vusi Mahlasela has apparently pulled out.

Then let’s look at the back story of how Freshlyground snuck onto the Official World Cup song. The way it goes is that FIFA bestowed upon Sony Music the exclusive rights to deliver the Official World Cup song, Sony being a big global sponsor of the soccer showcase. All the Sony artists get to pitch and put forward suggestions and these songs get presented to FIFA, who along with some execs at Sony, choose.

Freshlyground were in New York recording their latest album Radio Africa. They just so happened to be in the same studio complex as Shakira who was recording her attempt for the Official World Cup song… But something was missing, so Shakira’s producer popped downstairs to check out this unknown South African band that was producing some enticing sounds in the basement. So Freshlyground, the only thing that gives this track even a vague whiff of credibility, relevance or connection to the motherland, snuck into the production through an act of universal serendipity. Kismet. Chance.

The irony is not lost that the song’s oft repeated chorus has Shakira singing the words, “this time for Africa” over and again while she is, to paraphrase Bob Dylan “standing in the doorway and blocking up the hall”. Gobbling up the opportunity that should have been given to a deserving African artist.

But wait it gets better. The World Cup song “Waka Waka” is actually a remake of this old number from a band called Trafassi from Surinam in the Caribbean. Even though the FIFA website simply claims that Shakira wrote the song. Apparently, the Trafassi version of Waka Waka was a big hit in Columbia back in the day.

Now dig a little deeper and you’ll see the African connection. The Trafassi hit was a rip on the original version of “Waka Waka”, a song called “Zangalewa” which was an old marching tune from Cameroon made popular by a makossa band called Golden Sounds, who soon changed their name to Zangalewa due to the success of their song. The lyrics are in a Cameroonian dialect called Fang. Apparently the song has quite a pointed political message criticising black military officers who were in league with white colonialists to suppress their own people, and this explains why the band are dressed up like farcical, clownish soldiers.

And much like the old white American smearing his face with burnt chalk or boot polish, it’s pretty obvious that FIFA has no real intention of providing real opportunities for African culture and society through their World Cup. Despite Sepp Blatter’s supposed love affair with the continent, their “this time for Africa” shtick is face paint. Blackface. It’s a powerful analogy for what’s happening right now. There’s a white dude dancing around, appropriating, exploiting and misrepresenting Africa to the world. It’s a partially digested Disney vision of the continent like the Lion King. It’s exactly the same kak Hugh Masekela was commenting on when he titled his first album in exile The Americanisation of Ooga Booga. It’s an old story, really. A global showcase positioned entirely towards the rich and powerful markets of the first world. They just want some exotic shit to dance to. And FIFA and Sony were not about to take the “risk” on untested African artists.

And this is just one instance in a long list of bad decision making. Instances that have positioned this World Cup 2010 as both anti-poor and anti-African. From the 5km exclusion zones around the stadiums, that basically forcefully exclude informal traders from any financial benefit from the games, to the exorbitant liquor license fees for pubs with TV sets, to the internationally tilted line-up for the official kick off event… It’s patently obvious to anyone who wants to look that FIFA is not on our side.

But hopefully there will be enough focussed international interest in what’s happening here, that like Freshlyground, other talented and original African artists can sneak onto the TV and computer screens of the global consciousness, through the backdoor. Because right now, that’s the only way in.

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