Celebrating an Offbeat World Cup

Charles Leonard is a Media Director in the Johannesburg office of Magna Carta, a four-time PR Agency of the Year in South Africa. Magna Carta is Ketchum’s exclusive affiliate partner in South Africa, providing the full spectrum of strategic communication services to blue-chip clients in private and public sectors.

If one of my heroes, reggae superstar Bob Marley, were still alive today, I bet I would’ve bumped into him in Johannesburg this week for the start of the FIFA World Cup. That Marley was a soccer fanatic is quite a well-known fact, and there are great photographs to prove it. His favourite team was Brazil’s Santos FC, and his favourite player was the legendary Pelé. Legend has it that Marley demanded that when he was on tour he have easy access to a football pitch. But what I didn’t know was that he was apparently buried with several items including his guitar (a Gibson Les Paul), a Bible, a ring and a soccer ball.Don’t ask how exactly I stumbled upon that, but it was as part of an online musical meander the other night – something I undertake very often. This time the broad aim was to find World Cup-related music. More about that later.
My musical obsession is part of a little known male affliction which I call Man-O-Pause. It manifests itself in many guises, often materialistic of nature: a thundering Harley, a red Lamborghini, and so on.
Mine came in much less relationship-threatening form, but overwhelming and of avalanche proportions nonetheless. At the tender age of 40 I started DJing. Now, almost nine years later, the obsession has not subsided – perhaps not surprising having been a music fanatic/collector since the age of six.
Once a month, a friend and I have a DJing session at the Kitchener Carvery at the frayed-at-the-edges Milner Park Hotel in a less savoury part of Johannesburg. It is named after Herbert Kitchener, one of the key figures in Britain’s not so shiny colonial past. He was perhaps better known as literally being the poster boy to recruit soldiers for the First World War.
This coming Thursday, we will be at it again and hope to attract some visiting football fans that are here in SA for the World Cup (my idea with the Internet trawl, which I soon abandoned due to lack of interest on my side, was to find World Cup-related songs, to play then). Fans who are musically adventurous and keen to hear artists like Dolly Parton, Sun Ra, Lee Perry, Serge Gainsbourg, Brenda Fassie, Fela Kuti, Booker T & the MGs, Johnny Cash, Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, and, of course, Bob Marley, all in the same set.
Of course, we can’t compete with fans of major artists like Alicia Keys, the Black Eyed Peas and John Legend who are performing at the same time at a FIFA kickoff concert in Soweto (next time we’ll really remember to compare diaries with Sepp Blatter’s people. . .).
The concert was shrouded in controversy because local musicians and activists were upset that the supporting artists at the megaconcert didn’t include too many local artists (although it is worth travelling to Soweto even if it is just to see the black art-rockers BLK JKS). But controversy and FIFA often find itself in the same sentence in the run-up to this World Cup. Fortunately, it has been resolved and more South African artists were added to the roster.
On Friday, there will be more superstars, including R Kelly, who will be performing with the Soweto Spiritual Singers before South Africa takes on Mexico for the opening match at Soccer City outside Soweto. But football and music go back a very long way, with all major clubs and national teams having their own chants and songs, based on well-known hymns, folk tunes, nursery rhymes, or old and new pop songs, as well as original songs created by fans themselves.
In South Africa, the musical output from our terraces (both football and rugby) is dominated by one song, “Shozaloza”, a traditional workers’ song which means “go forward”. It is however, often drowned out by the notorious vuvuzela, a plastic trumpet which, when blown by a stadium full of South African fans, makes a sound like a whale with a gigantic hangover having an argument with a swarm of seriously furious bees.
A few footballers have dabbled in music as well, but their songs are mostly best left unheard. The same seems to apply to the number of official songs for the 2010 World Cup: there is an official song by Shakira and the local band Freshlyground, the official anthem by R Kelly, and official mascot song by Pitbull, TK Zee and Dario G.
An alternative/indie record label quirkily named, Indiecater Records came up with a most listenable and ambitious. Called “Fast Forward”, they asked some of their favourite bands to each write a football-related song about each of the 32 countries participating in the 2010 tournament. It was well worth the five pounds I spent to download them.
In the end, it is at the street parties around our country where the best music will be heard. I’m sure Bob would’ve approved.