When South Africa officially welcomes the world to the World Cup next month, complete with a concert headlined by Shakira, few fans will realize what a controversy nearly marred that first impression.
As World Cup organizer, FIFA (officially known as the International Federation of Association Football) last week named Shakira’s “Waka Waka” the theme song and tapped top Western artists including Alicia Keys and Black Eyed Peas – but few South African acts.
That caused a minor uproar among musicians here. How, they argued, can FIFA bring hundreds of thousands of tourists and sports fans all the way to Africa's most developed country at the continent's southern tip and not put South African artists up on stage?
On May 4, FIFA corrected all that, adding South African acts Freshlyground (previously scheduled only as a backup band to Shakira), Hugh Masekela, the Soweto Gospel Choir, and Somali hip-hop star K’naan.
The uproar may be bewildering for a country that already has a guaranteed month of the world’s attention, but it speaks volumes about the passion that South Africans feel about their music and about the economic benefits of the World Cup.
“When we got the World Cup, people were really planning on how they will get rich, start a bed-and-breakfast, but people didn’t really understand how FIFA operates,” says Khaya Dlanga, a Johannnesburg-based newspaper columnist.
Union demands greater spotlight for local artists
With all of its stadiums completed, two major new airport refurbishments done, a new bus system and new commuter rail system operating, and almost all tickets to the games sold out (the largest chunk of them to South Africans, followed by Americans) South Africa would seem to have little to complain about.
The arrival of hundreds of thousands of sports fans into South Africa would seem to be that rising sea that lifts all boats, even those moored far from all those football stadiums.
But a mixture of national pride and economic fear have caused South African artists to make their voices heard, both on and off the stage.
To channel their outrage, musicians have turned to their local union. Last month, the 500-member Creative Workers Union announced an April 15 march on the capital buildings in Pretoria to protest the exclusion of South African artists from FIFA events. The union called off their march the day beforehand, however, after receiving assurances that more South African musicians would be included.
The union was not going to allow local artists to be “undermined by FIFA’s ruling oligarchy and their capitalist-inclined motives,” said union president Mabutho Sithole at a press conference. The union demanded that 80 percent of the talent at FIFA events be local.
South African musicians just felt they should have a bigger piece of the pie, says Mr. Dlanga, the columnist. He laughs and adds: “The truth is, we like complaining a lot. I think that is what is happening.”
Capitalizing on the crowds
Kojo Baffoe, a Ghanaian national and a poet based in Johannesburg, says that South African artists should realize that “this is how FIFA runs things.”
“On the official song, you’ve got Shakira featuring Freshlyground, and at the end of the day it is the World Cup and FIFA who decide what gets into the lineup,” he says.
Originally a Cameroonian tune, "Waka Waka" is popular elsewhere on the continent but was roundly panned when released to radio stations here last week. Mr. Baffoe says he would prefer if the official song was “an African ‘We are the World’ with a mixture of local and international talent.”
South African musicians who don’t make the final cut to perform at the World Cup, Baffoe says, should organize their own concerts and encourage some of those swelling masses of tourists to come.
“If South African artists take advantage of that attention, they’ll do well,” agrees Suede, an American writer, director, and producer based in Johannesburg.
“There’s a lot of talent here,” says Suede, who goes by one name. “But South African artists need to get up and do this on their own.”