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World Cup Song by Shakira Stirs Controversy

World Cup
Another in a series of stories about the upcoming World Cup in South Africa, which begins Friday. Previously, Art Beat looked at the official art posters of the World Cup; a project called 2010 Fine Art; the Diski, a dance created just for the World Cup; and Soccer Cinema, a traveling theater that has been screening films all over South Africa.

Every FIFA World Cup comes with an official FIFA World Cup song — from ‘La Copa de la Vida’ by Ricky Martin at France 1998 to ‘Gloryland’ by Daryl Hall (no Oates) at USA 1994.

The songs are inoffensive universal pop, meant to appeal to a universal audience and draw in viewership and interest. This year’s song, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa),” however, has stirred sentiment among South Africans, many of whom were outraged because FIFA selected a non-African, Colombian pop star Shakira, to write the song and perform lead vocals.

Based on a Cameroonian marching chant and featuring backup by popular South African group Freshlyground, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” has many soccer fans around the world dancing to an African beat. And when Shakira takes the stage Thursday night in Soweto’s Orlando Stadium for FIFA’s kick-off concert, she’ll be joined by American music stars John Legend, Alicia Keys and the Black Eyed Peas.

But in calls to local talk shows, interviews with the press and meetings with FIFA officials, South Africans demanded to know why an African wasn’t chosen for the high-profile role. The South African artist’s union proclaimed that the concert was “not an African event” and had called for a boycott.

FIFA eventually expanded the number of African acts, with the final roster now including the Soweto Gospel Choir, trumpeter Hugh Masekela and Somali hip-hop star K’naan.

Freshlyground, which was originally scheduled to perform as Shakira’s backup band, was also given its own slot. But the band itself doesn’t feel slighted by FIFA or its decision to choose Shakira for the official World Cup song, says Freshlyground violinist Kyla-Rose Smith.

“I think that the World Cup is a global event but it’s also a business, a huge marketing exercise,” Smith says. “FIFA requires a musician of a certain global reach to appeal to all the different kinds of people who are involved and witness and watch the World Cup. So I understand the choice of someone like Shakira.”

Calling itself “the musical voice of a nation’s adolescent democracy,” Freshlyground mixes black, white, male and female talent behind the lead vocals of Zolani Mahola. For eight years, they have been gaining international traction with singles like “I’d Like” and the more recent “Pot Belly.”

With three albums and a string of international tours under their belt, Freshlyground’s musicians traveled to New York in February to record their latest record, “Radio Africa.” That’s where they ran into Shakira, who was developing “Waka Waka” in the same studio.

Shakira’s song needed a few more African touches, so her producer asked Freshlyground to lend a hand.

“We are a band that is very much influenced by African music. We use those sounds and styles a lot. So we just added what we do, really,” says Smith.

Listen to Kyla-Rose Smith tell the story:

Shakira and Freshlyground will come together for an encore performance of “Waka Waka” before the World Cup Finals on July 11 in Johannesburg’s Soccer City Stadium.