With the close of the World Cup just behind us, we’re still congratulating modern times on its enlightened diversity. More Black players than ever ran up and down the fields, playing in a country that, despite its troubled racial history, is actively working toward equality for all its citizens. In fact, the World Cup’s star-studded opening ceremony featured a large number of artists of color, all centered around Shakira singing the official World Cup anthem “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).” The beautiful Shakira gave the flawless performance we’ve come to expect from her. But after the applause died down, many wondered why an African wasn’t on that stage, “this time for Africa.”

Shakira’s fair skin and bottle-blond hair separated her from most of the people on the continent, but you can’t say homegirl isn’t trying. “Waka Waka” samples a 1986 song called “Zangaléwa” from the Cameroonian group Golden Sounds. Shakira undoubtedly heard it growing up, since it got all of Africa and parts of Latin American—including Colombia—dancing in the 80’s. She covered all bases by recording the song with the popular South African band Freshlyground. When she and Freshlyground took the stage a month ago to kick off the World Cup, Shakira donned an animal-print cutout leotard and grass skirt. Her dancers came in all shades, creating Bishop Tutu’s projection of a Rainbow Nation. The band, the outfit, the dancers, and the sample are all a nod to Africa and the diaspora; she wouldn’t have heard “Zangaléwa” in the first place if West African DJs hadn’t made their way to Colombia. Shakira’s no fool– a sugary pop confection simply won’t work when the World Cup is held on African soil for the first time.

But maybe her detractors have a reason to be upset. It’s no small thing that the World Cup finally came to Africa, and as one of the event’s many prominent faces, it would’ve felt like change had truly come if Shakira were African, or at least brown. The assumption seems to be that Africa provides great subject matter but Africans in and of themselves just aren’t interesting. Hollywood makes this mistake all the time; rarely are African actors used in movies about Africa. Once again, Africans are left out of their own representation. Her animal-print and grass skirt getup (designed by none other than Roberto Cavalli) is an obvious reference to where she is, but it’s blind to the fact that while many modern Africans incorporate traditional elements in their everyday wear, most save the head-to-toe ethnic outfits for special occasions. It came off as insensitive and dated, almost like the lily-white Bo Derek sporting cornrows thirty years ago.

The question “why Shakira?” usually comes with a second question: “why not K’naan?’ He’s a critical, if not a commercial success in his own right. Born in Somalia, K’naan is the artist some feel has more claim to the official anthem. He recorded his own song for the World Cup celebrations “Waving Flag.” His song is less popular than the upbeat “Waka Waka”, but it gets its share of play as the official song of the Coca-Cola’s World Cup program.

Many of the complaints against Shakira’s being chosen are valid, but they leave out her superstardom. It’s easy to notice the prominent African artists who got passed over for the job (Hugh Masekela, Meshell Ndegeocello) but it’s just as easy to see why she was chosen. The World Cup is a huge event that needs a huge star to get people excited and Shakira is just that big. She’s sold upwards of fifty million albums worldwide, sells out concerts and won heaps of awards. Add that to the fact that teams from Spanish-speaking countries tend to dominate the World Cup—only Latin American and European teams have ever won—and it’s not hard to see why she was picked. It’s up to us to decide if her contribution to the celebration is about disregard for African input or a tribute to what Africa has to offer to the rest of the world.

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  • At first I thought it was a joke that Shakira was given the official song. But then I thought how much I myself liked Shakira and her hips dont lie moves and catchy songs. There is also room for other artists, and room for them to prove themselves as much as she has. The time she’s spent here she’s shown how humble and smart she actually is. Freshlyground were grateful to be featured, as they are not as well known, and have not been in the game as long as Shakira has. And by the way Zolani does not have squeaky voice – the way Alexandra put this is disrespectful, and just shows how much people around the world look down on Africans and African artists. She is one of the most recognisable and loved voices in South Africa and she and the band she headlines play to sold-out crowds. K’Naan’s song was always my favourite, but I have come to like Shakira’s version of Waka Waka because of how contagious and happy-making it’s been. Walking in the streets to go watch a match and listening to everyone sing this song? Priceless. That is going to be one of my best memories of this time.

    Lastly, the author Desiree was worried about the Cavallli outfit. At first I thought it was ‘typical’ and clenched my teeth a bit, but then I also realised that paying homage to what is natural, simple and beautiful about Africa was also a good thing. We wear all kinds of things, and people and performers here are so varied. So really, had a South African worn the same thing, no-one would have said anything negative, unless it did not meet their style expectations. South Africans are extremely style-conscious and are up on the latest everything. They travel the world, and get goods from everywhere, including Cavalli. If you watched the closing ceremony you would have seen Zolani’s outrageous outfit, and Shakira once again in a very South African-inspired outfit. It’s all about getting the most visually arresting look, and she succeeded. She was beautiful, international and a star. (Zolani as well.)

  • Love Child

    as a South African, living in South Africa – honestly, I hate the song. I also prefer K’Naan’s song “Waving Flag”. I also had a problem with R.Kelly opening the world cup ceremony, yet great South African artists like Thandiswa were given like 2 seconds to sing old songs!!! I know it is a “World Cup”, and the goons at FIFA wanted international appeal, the soccer players that were playing are biggest stars in the world. that’s all the international appeal they needed – people came to watch the World Cup because of soccer!!! soccer is big in the rest of the world – unlike America!!!
    It was a great event that we pulled off in South African style – even though FIFA and the British media tried to paint South Africa as badly as they could!!!! This is just the beginning for our people!!!!

  • taj

    correction: meshell ndegeocello is not african. she was born in berlin to black american parents and raised in d.c.

  • I have some issues with this argument,

    Firstly it fails to mention Shakira’s significant relationship with the World Cup and Fifa organization. She has previously provided music for the organization, particularly for the last world cup in 06 with “hips don’t lie”. And while she’s a superstar, yes, it’s important to remember that she is a very INTERNATIONAL super star. She has had massive success throughout Latin America and the caribbean years before she became popular in the United States/North America, as well as in Europe, and those places happen to be the better consumers of all things Soccer (let’s face it, the only time Americans may care about futbol is {barely} the cup). So yeah, this was the world cup but it’s the FIFA world cup, so it makes sense that she was selected.
    K’Naan unfortunately doesn’t have that background with the org., or at least enough for him to be the “official” songster.
    and just a side note, Shakira has experienced just as much exoticizement and fetishment in the process of crossing over as a Latin American singer to the United States mainstream as anything “african” gets in our media. She is certainly not a member of the neutral majority as this article suggests, despite her appearance.

    And lastly, this quote,
    “Hollywood makes this mistake all the time; rarely are African actors used in movies about Africa. Once again, Africans are left out of their own representation. ”

    As if hollywood is the only platform for African movies? What about the bustling and successful Nigerian movie industry that outbeats Hollywood and I think even Bollywood? This suggests that Africans depend on the Western media to represent them, and totally takes away their autonomy and power, which they have, with or without our media coverage. Assuming that just because we in the West don’t see African lead actors in movies about africa (Although I’d like to give a shout out to Djimon Hounsou in Blood Diamond…) means that they get left out of their representation or what have you is just as belittling as what you’re accusing the FIFA organization of doing. Plus is kinda silly considering Hollywood isn’t necessarily known for its authenticity (Coppola created shock waves and panic when he decided to use actors who were actually Italian or Italian American for the Godfather)

    Yes, Africa has and probably will always be exoticized and some of that was prevalent in Cup media. But I’m not quite sure it has anything to do with Shakira, nor do I think that Africa needs American media to represent them for themselves. I was more over the whole “let’s incorporate random african culture in our shit” feel of “waka wakka” but i found it much better than Alicia Keys performing Empire State of mind (who the hell made that choice?) and at least it wasn’t another pity party invitation.

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