I’ve listened to Shakira’s “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” at least 30-40 times in the past week.
Celie and Iris play it over and over and my response to it has passed through various phases.
- Listens 1-5: This song is sort of dreck.
- 6-10: But very catchy.
- 11-15: Now I’m really getting sick of it.
- 16-20: Oh god, please no, not this again.
- 21-25: [eyeing sharp instruments to gouge out my ears]
- 26-30 Weirdly coming out the other side and starting to kind of enjoy it again.
- 31-40 The song feels natural, inevitable, beyond judgment, part of the environment
They are doing some kind of school dance to the song tomorrow morning, so this may end soon.
The backstory to the song is kind of fascinating. It’s basically a cover/rip-off of this absolutely great, beautiful Cameroonian song:
Wikipedia explains that
Tsamina or Zangaléwa is a 1986 hit song, originally sung by a makossa group from Cameroon called Golden Sounds who were beloved throughout the continent for the dances and costumes. The song was such a hit for Golden Sounds that they eventually changed their name to Zangaléwa, too. The song pays tribute to African skirmishers (a.k.a tirailleurs) during WW II. Most of the band members were in the Cameroonian Army themselves and used make up, fake bellies, and fake butts for comic relief. The song was used extensively in the frontlines by the Nigerian Army during the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970). It was also popular in some Nigeria schools as a marching song in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The Nigerian Army Band, The Mercuries, based in Kaduna also did cover this song in the 1970’s on live Television appearances. The song is still used today almost everywhere in Africa by soldiers, policemen, boy scouts, sportsmen, and their supporters, usually during training or for rallying. It is also widely used in schools throughout the continent especially in Cameroon as a marching song and almost everyone in the country knows the chorus of the song by heart.
What gets fascinating is that the song is apparently — or is sometimes turned into — an anti-militaristic anthem:
The men in the group often dressed in military uniforms, wearing pith helmets and stuffing their clothes with pillows to appear like they had swollen butts from riding the train and fat stomachs from eating too much. The song, music historians say, is a criticism of black military officers who were in league with whites to oppress their own people. The rest is Cameroonian slang and jargon from the soldiers during the war.
According to Jean Paul Zé Bella, the lead singer of Golden Sounds, the chorus came from Cameroonian “sharpshooters who had created a slang for better communication between them during the Second World War”. They copied this fast pace in the first arrangements of the song. They sang the song together for freedom in Africa.
So… it kind of makes sense, a little bit, as an African World Cup anthem — with the literal opening lines, “you’re a soldier, choosing your battles,” turned into a metaphor for football. To re-deploy it in this way, though, sung by a blonde from Columbia, scrubs it all of its cultural specificity, history, and pointed political significance.
The comments thread on Youtube is interesting; I’ll cite a few:
beautiful. so much better then shakira’s version. shakira is someone i can’t really relate to africa.. but this.. this is perfect.
This song isn’t about ‘singing good’. It’s a chant, a protest song, a empowering tune, a cheer for your cause. You want to hear this from ‘the people’, and not from a individual artist. Shakira’s song is nice, but in a stadium, you just want to scream it.
shakira didn’t do anything wrong – it’s actually even admirable. It’s just that we hate her ignorant fans – but lets get it straight – it’s not her fault who listens to her.
I dislike how Shakira lied, and said that she made up this song. However, I do think that she’s gotten the ORIGINAL song a lot of good recognition. People who actually give a crap about Africa and their culture will definitely pass by here.
Celie and Iris have stayed out of the controversy. They just listen to Shakira’s version 24/7 and work on their dance.
Now, if only I can convince the girls to dress up for the performance “in military uniforms, wearing pith helmets and stuffing their clothes with pillows to appear like they had swollen butts from riding the train and fat stomachs from eating too much.” If I do, I’ll be sure to get a photo…