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Music: The song remains the game

In the second part of our World Cup pop guide, Pierre Perrone looks beyond the home nations, to France and the rest of the world
"C'est un vrai mic-mac, it's an almighty mess, no one knows which World Cup record to buy or what the official song really is," says Luc Vergier. The international marketing director at Sony Music Entertainment Europe is describing the situation in France which nearly mirrors the competitive UK market we described last week. "Football fans are hesitating between "La Cour Des Grands" by Youssou N'Dour and Axelle Red which is the official anthem and "La Copa De La Vida" by Ricky Martin, the official song of France 98 and a Top 5 song in both Spain and Italy. And let's not forget Jean-Michel Jarre & Apollo 440's "Rendez-Vous 98"!" Tim Madgwick, football collection specialist at Cherry Red Records, is equally puzzled. "I can't believe the amount of releases there are both in the UK and abroad. It's important to have a good song to focus everyone's support. But now the major labels are jumping on the bandwagon and it's watering down the effect you got from World In Motion in 1990. They come out to cash-in on the big tournaments whereas, at Cherry Red, we're selling football records all year round."

"Carnaval de Paris" by Dario G is the best at conveying the excitement. Many of the other foreign tracks such as Bellini's "Samba E Go" from Germany try and go for the same sunny flavour and atmosphere, to reflect their culture, to mirror the pace of the game and also because they will be used by TV stations in their local markets. Particularly atmospheric is Grupo Batuque who have compiled Samba de Futebol, a percussive mix which incorporates sambas and supporter chants with snatches of radio commentary. The bouncy "Rise Up" by Jamaica United mirrors England United's stellar effort and features a host of reggae stars such as Shaggy, Diana King, Maxi Priest, Ziggy Marley & Toots Hibbert. This valiant effort easily beats "Kick It!" by The Reggae Boyz even though the latter was recorded with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare along with some of the Jamaican Squad.

Otherwise, the foreign World Cup songs mostly eschew the pisstake approach of a Keith Allen and go for the anthemic jugular (the dreadful "Together Now" by Jean-Michel Jarre and Japan's Tetsuya `TK' Komuro). Lyrical gems abound. "When they are good, there's no one finer from L.A. to China!" scream Danish duo M.A.T.C.H to spur on their team with "Hot Legs". "E Sempre Noi!" (It's always us) brags Italy's finest Spagna, while Jam & Spoon come up with the profound observation that "At The End Of The Day, It's Only A Game." When Brazil's Skank echo this with the equally deep "E Uma Partida De Futebol", you find yourself wishing it was only a game.

Youssou N'DOUR

Youssou N'Dour has always been a football fan. "I grew up playing in the streets of Dakar," recalled the Senegalese singer, who found worldwide fame in 1994 with "Seven Seconds", his duet with Neneh Cherry. "I nearly made a career out of it. But I threw myself into the game with such passion that I got badly injured. That put an end to the footballing dream. However, football still has a major part in my life."

Youssou was made an ambassador for Unicef five years ago. "When we go abroad, we all become unofficial ambassadors for our own country," he says. "That's why I have such a bond with George Weah [AC Milan's acclaimed Liberian striker]. I see him at various shows around Europe. I'm also in touch with other great players like Bernard Lama and Bruno Ngotty."

Given his sporting background, his connections (Sting, Peter Gabriel and Wyclef Jean of the Fugees all guest on his forthcoming album) and his success, Youssou might have seemed a natural choice for the composer of the official World Cup anthem. However, the singer was only one name on the shortlist presented to Michel Platini, the French footballing legend who is in charge of this year's World Cup.

"I only had the music, the title and the concept for the song but instantly set to work with Belgian singer Axelle Red. By the way, she was my choice, though rapper MC Solaar was also in contention. I wasn't just looking to repeat the formula of `Seven Seconds', though, no doubt, the record company and the organisers had that in mind.

"Still, I was overwhelmed when `La Cour Des Grands' was picked," Youssou admitted. "I felt incredibly proud. I quickly realised the incredible honour I'd been granted. The Senegalese president called me up, and then friends from everywhere phoned too. It was as if I'd become a demigod. When we did the song for the World Cup draw in front of a capacity crowd at the Stade Velodrome in Marseilles, I literally had shivers all down my spine. It was a great moment," the African star says.

It's not the first time Youssou has used his singing skills to promote football. "That's true!" he smiled. "Thirteen years ago, I wrote `The Lion', which became the song for the Senegalese football team. Music and football are both great at combining popular rhythms and emotions. They really work well together."

Dario G

Techno trio Dario G are the odd ones out. Sure, as keyboard-wizard Paul Spencer explains, "the name has a football connection. Dario Gradi, a Cypriot, is the manager of Crewe Alexandra, our local football team. I went to his house to borrow a football shirt for Top Of The Pops and he said, `I understand you're doing very well with my name!' Sorry to spoil the illusion.

"I know the name Dario G conjured up the image of a hunk DJing in Ibiza, but we didn't expect "Sunchyme" to take off the way it did. Now we're promoting our album, Sunmachine, and single "Carnaval de Paris." "

Already picked by French and German TV stations as the ideal signature tune for their World Cup coverage, "Carnaval de Paris" is an aural delight. Paul, Scott Rosser and Stephen-Paul Spencer wanted to "celebrate the whole event, not tie the track to any particular country. We adapted the most obvious terrace chant, using instruments to represent each country, such as accordion, bagpipes, steel drums - it sounds great but we were careful not to overload the track."

The video for "Carnaval de Paris" carries on with the universal flavour and also "picks up the body-painting theme of the previous one for "Sunchyme". It celebrates the magic of football around the world, not just the capitalist tournament. There's a magic to seeing a football on the ground. Last week, we played the track live at the German Cup Final between Bayern Munich and Duisberg and we realised how universal the appeal of the game really is."