Monday, November 22, 2010

A Quick Return to the World Cup

If you had anything to do with the World Cup, you definitely heard K'naan's "Waving Flag." Before the World Cup started, it played everywhere, including at the World Cup Draw on Long Street in December 2009 (I can't believe that was almost a year ago!). The song, through strange and mysterious FIFA machinations, went from being the "official" song of the World Cup to the Coca-Cola World Cup song. Shakira's "Waka Waka," of course, supplanted it to become the official song for FIFA.

I was talking the other day with friends about the song, and one of them reminded me that the original lyrics from K'naan's album "Troubadour" were very different from what got pushed out by the Coke people. Here are the original lyrics. And this is what you would have heard during the World Cup.

The first is a story about a young man who made it out (K'naan was born in Somalia and lived in Mogadishu during the civil war before moving to Canada at age thirteen and becoming an international artist). His work is often political--he was noticed by Senegalese superstar Youssou N'dour when he performed a spoken word piece at the UNHCR in 1999 criticizing its failed policies in Somalia. The second song is about soccer. Pure and simple.

The World Cup was a tricky thing. It gave a huge amount of positive attention to South Africa, and by extension, the entire continent. It was also incredibly expensive and required SA to shell out a lot of dough that might have been better spent on housing or social programs. It brought the country (and maybe the continent; I'm not sure I can answer that) together in a way that, apart from the Rugby World Cup in 1995, has perhaps never happened. I never felt safer or more a part of the community than I did during June and July of this year. But it was a false promise--things have largely gone back to the way they were, with some new (mostly empty) stadiums, a few better roads, and a lingering nostalgia (a nostalgia that was out in full force during the USA-SA friendly on the 17th, I'd like to add).

There are undeniable problems in South Africa and across the African continent. And there's also a lot of good happening, and a lot of hope. People are struggling everywhere to make a living, to do their best, despite overwhelming odds--they're making do with soda soap. The World Cup leaned pretty heavy on the latter--on the good--and this was very important. Many people think of Africa (one country, of course, and very small) as a place of flies and death and AK-47s and horrible diseases and skinny babies (or, even worse, as a place of elephants and "The Lion King" and pretty sunsets).

All of these are pretty obvious points that I'm making, I know. A bit (a lot) cliched. What I'm torn about, however, and trying to work towards, is the dilution of this K'naan song. And, perhaps, the dilution (I'm not trying to use this as a loaded term) of the image of Africa in the World Cup. There were nice photo-ops with babies and at health clinics--and NGOs got a lot of help and attention and coverage for the good things they're doing across SA and elsewhere. People who perhaps would never have come before came to SA and were safe, mostly. But it felt a little like putting on a nice smile and pretending like everything was OK. And of course, it's always more complicated than that.

Go take a listen of K'naan's original song. See what you think.

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