The global roots of South Africa's World Cup song

Whatever else Golden Sounds thought they were doing 25 years ago when they stuffed pillows into their clothes and donned pith helmets to record "Zangaléwa", it's unlikely they thought they were making a World Cup song. But in one of the stranger ripples of globalisation that's exactly what has happened.

It all began with an underwhelming response in South Africa recently to the news that Colombian pop singer Shakira had been chosen to record the tournament's official song.

When she delivered the suitably generic "Waka-Waka (This Time for Africa)" the feeling among some in Africa's first World Cup host nation was that this had nothing to do with a country with plenty of its own music. One South African commentator greeted the song with the headline: "Waka Waka – Wank Wank".

The song was also disliked for its strangely martial lyrics, promoting a game that's marketed as a bringer of global peace: "You're a good soldier, choosing your battles/ Pick yourself up, dust yourself off/ And get back in the saddle."

The producers feared a backlash similar to that which greeted Live 8 concert organisers when they forgot to include African acts in their concert to save the continent.

The promoters quickly pointed to the collaboration of South African band Freshlyground, without realising that the chorus of "Waka-Waka" had African roots of its own that ran deeper than just the Afro-pop ensemble.

In true global diva style, Shakira's effort had sampled its chorus from a 1980s dancefloor hit that had swept Latin America. It was the Latin culture blog Guanbee who first spotted that the original song "Zangaléwa" had arrived in the clubs of Colombia's Cartagena courtesy of West African DJs.

The song, it transpired, had already been a hit for Golden Sounds, an eccentric group who performed in silly costumes and whose lead singer was in the Cameroon national guard.

And as the singer, Jean Paul Zé Bella, explained to the Cameroon Tribune, the "Waka Waka" chorus does have a military background: "The song 'Zangaléwa' came from Cameroonian sharpshooters who had created a slang for better communication between them during the Second World War," he said.

Golden Sounds, who eventually changed their name to Zangaléwa as the song became more widely known than they were, said they would "probably" be getting some royalties.

Sadly Mr Zé Bella will not be reprising the original performance of the song, which featured his band dressed in army officers' uniforms stuffed with pillows to make them look fat, wearing pith helmets and painting their faces white. This was apparently intended to parody black officers who had been in league with white officers to oppress the rank-and-file African men.

The lead singer, who retired eight years ago from the presidential guard after 30 years of service, said he was flattered by the latest reprise and thought it might be a good omen for the Cameroon national team.

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