Thursday, June 24, 2010

Listening to the World Cup: Waka Waka, Zangaléwa and Vuvuzelas

From the first 2010 World Cup broadcasts on ESPN, my fellow tweeters cracked jokes about The Lion King. We imagined Rafiki calling the matches, or James Earl Jones (who provided the voice for Mufasa), and half expected the referees to raise the Jabulani aloft 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 broadcasts was written by Lisle Moore, a Utah composer who had worked with the network in the past. Moore 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") That "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 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 - signals clearly audible to the listener of African music, the 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 bad.  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 "Waka Waka" is, very nearly, an illegal cover (the chorus is a direct use of "Zangaléwa").

First, Golden Sounds' 1986 hit:

And Shakira/Freshlyground:

In his article "Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights: Shakira, Zangalewa and the World Cup Anthem," (from which I draw heavily below) Dibussi Tande situates 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 in Michale Jackson's use of Manu Dibango's hit song "Soul Makossa" in the opening track on Thriller.

Dibango sued Jackson and won - incredibly, given the topic here, Dibango's song was the B-side to Movement Ewondo which 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 pale in comparison with what Shakira and Sony music pull off with "Waka Waka". Given their direct use of a song which seems to be known 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.)

Tande, a digitial 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 knew the song, and were horrified to see it stolen in this way. He writes:
To Cameroonians and many African, the origins of the song was no mystery as they instantly recognized it as a remix of “Zangalewa”. Thus began a frenzied online campaign to alert the world that this was not a Shakira original but a remix. The task was made all the more easier thanks to videos of the Golden Sounds performing Zangalewa that were available on the web. The campaign picked up steam as the international media began taking an interest in the story. (Tande, "Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights", May 23 on Scribbles from the Den)
The internet sped up a process which normally takes years to resolve - clearly, obviously "Waka Waka" is a version of "Zangaléwa." Under pressure from the Cameroonian musicians and their advocates, FIFA gingerly inserted a statement of "Waka Waka"'s relationship to the Golden Sounds hit.  FIFA/Shakira/Sony attempt to control the spin here by calling "Waka Waka" a remix, but that's just not true - unless "remix" is now a codeword for "plagiarism" - as none of the original material for the World Cup song acknowledge the existence of "Zangaléwa". (See also Guanabee's April 10 article "Shakira's World Cup Song 'Saminamina' Rips From the 1980s African Hit 'Zangaléwa'.")

The definitive riffs, melodies and lyrics of "The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup (TM) Song" belong not to FIFA at all, but to the makers and listeners of Cameroonian music.

Tande connects this story to Puma's use of a photograph of Ngado Pickett, a celebrated Cameroonian fan in an Paris-based advertising campaign. Puma never asked Pickett for the use of his image to endorse its product. Tande brings it all back around to the starting point for this post: The Lion King. Responding to those who tell Pickett and the artists behind "Zangaléwa" that they should be happy for the exposure, Tande argues:
For decades, African artists have had their works plagiarized by the West with little or no compensation or acknowledgement. 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. In fact 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. (Tande, "Undermining African Intellectual and Artistic Rights", May 23 on 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.

Here we arrive at the big story of the sound of the world cup - the awful, awe-inspiring but terrifying sound of the vuvuzelas.

Perhaps the noise of the vuvuzela is the sound of resistance - African noise being fed back to us through the television set, a sonic interference, drowning out all else in a collective refusal to play a pretty song.


  1. THIS is why your blog is so important! Great story and excellent insight into the bigger underlying context.

  2. YES! I love the vuvuzelas—the epitome of a grassroots phenomenon that no one can conquer, that annoys the imperialists worldwide, that just SUENA!

  3. Hi Jennifer
    Firstly i would like to thank you for the blog, always informative but more importantly enjoyable. If i may i'd like to point out another train of thought i ran into on the net regarding the vuvuzelas:

    arguably though, the author of the blog contradicts himself and actually makes a case for the vuvuselas being an instrument of the poor/underclass to get their voices heard.

    You paint a pretty picture with your closing paragraph, but i find it hard to accept on face value your implications of that dreadful noisemaker, especially considering it's alleged short lifespan in South Africa.
    In any case, i doubt the vuvuzealots' message is getting through at all to those of us on the other side of the tv/planet..
    thanks for your time.

  4. Húni, I actually can't stand vuvuzelas. They have been a part of the MLS for a while. I much prefer drums, singing, etc. and can't imagine how horrible it must be to be in the stands. I totally agree - Blatter's statements (cited in that article) are moronic - that sound is no more "authentic" than, well, anything else I discuss in the post - and the one thing those plastic trumpets make impossible to hear is song - which is a staple of every football stand culture I've ever heard of. I don't think it's a conscious act of rebellion, but when you are watching TV its hard not to experience the noise as interference - not the interference of a political action, but something closer to the noise Keizer writes about, but with an added twist - in that it makes the television spectacle far less pleasant - it's a motor of intense affect around the spectacle, and an anxious affect - rather than the joyous one celebrated in WC publicity. there is lots to consider in this topic...

    thanks for the comment and for the link - it's a good article, and am very happy you shared it...

  5. Thanks Jeniffer for making me aware of this!

    I love to imagine the vuvuzelas as white noise coming from the guts of the collective mind to disturb the pervasive brainwash of Shakira's dumb song.

  6. A friend of mine had sent me a link to this song obviously a cover of Zangaléwa. It was my first hint that the chorus had familiar strains.

    I love this blog, it's the way I wish I could write about soccer (and other things). Look forward to more posts!

  7. This an interesting blog that deals with soccer/football from its most interesting perspective, the cultural/sociological one.
    I would really like if you can shed some light on the wrong doings in the shady world of FIFA. I think this would make a series of really interesting posts too!


Feedback? Let me know what you think. Just an FYI: all comments posted to this blog are recorded, whether I publish them or not. I do not publish generally hateful comments - whether they be directed at me or at players and teams or other readers. I appreciate reader feedback, especially from those whose contributions add nuance and complexity to the story.

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