Beautiful songs for the beautiful game
The Cup of Life (France, 1998) was an anthem, a soul-uplifting number. It turned Ricky Martin in to a household name and effectively cemented his popularity around the world. It was an inspiration. Watching Ricky perform on stage, waving his arms in a left-to-right trajectory that would have belied a Chinese fan, was something different. The camera would zoom into faces of fans, as excited as the Puerto Rican on the stage. Then the visuals would cut to shots of players. Les Bleus rode to glory in their nation on the back of this number.
Anastacia’s Boom (South Korea/Japan 2002) was also rousing. I have vague memories of the singer dancing around in maroon tight-fitting pants, oversized glares shading her eyes, brandishing a microphone and reaching a crescendo where the entire sound track would literally “boom”. I would sing along and get goose bumps with every “Boom” that was delivered with gusto and enthusiasm.
This year it is the Wavin’ Flag (Celebration Mix). What about it? It proved to be a bit of a punctured balloon.
The World Cup tournament is as important for passionate football fans as Virender Sehwag’s swashbuckling strokes required to revive the Indian cricket team. And Knaan’s whining voice does not give it the passion and drive the anthem demands. Make no mistake, the lyrics are beautiful. They are written for a continent set to break the shackles of long-time dependence on the rest of the world and come into its own, hosting football’s showpiece event. “When I get older/I will be stronger/they’ll call me freedom just like a wavin’ flag.” However clichéd it may be sound, this signifies how long it has taken to break the mindset that Africa can entertain millions of around the world on its soil without any mishaps whatsoever (small-time robberies and muggings everyday might not be such a good idea, though).
Somali-born, Canadian based singer K’naan played around with the lyrics numerous times before settling on the final ones for the World Cup. And the reaction has been less than enthusiastic. Some of my colleagues commented on the song sounding watered down. And many were unhappy with the tune. They wanted something more rousing – samba drums and clarinet-playing guys in the background (ala The Cup of Life). Some wanted hordes of dancing fans, with tears streaming down their faces and bodies covered with sweat, to reflect the love and passion for the sport that is the “Beautiful Game.” And some wanted more of Shakira’s Waka Waka (This Time For Africa) on television, for obvious reasons.
Maybe the song will take time to grow. And we will take time to grasp the powerful and moving lyrics that are actually quite inspiring. But even before it does, the flags are out in full force. Red and yellow, white and blue, green and red – the Rainbow Nation will successfully wave them all.