Sunday, June 13, 2010

Africa's true anthem?

I realize that it's been out for a while now but I heard Shakira's World Cup song "Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)" for the first time just the other day when she performed it at the kick-off concert.

While I usually like Shakira, I found this song to be pretty bland. But then again, that's probably exactly what you want from a would-be international anthem of this sort: enough of a catchy melody to stick in the world's collective memory but ultimately featureless enough that people of all nationalities, colors and creeds can project themselves into it.

What I found interesting about it was that the catchy part was an adaptation of a makossa song I remembered well from my youth: "Zangalewa," by the perennial Cameroonian national band, The Golden Sounds:

(The part Shakira bites occurs at 7:33, by the way)

I really didn't know anything about The Golden Sounds when the song was first released in 1986--I'm not sure I even realized they were Cameroonian at the time. (What I really remember is the video activating my long-running interest in the history of minstrel-style comedy in Africa.) I didn't understand the Fang lyrics, so I had no idea they were singing about rowdy army recruits in colonial-era Cameroons and I don't think most Nigerian kids did either as they sang that zamina mina refrain as a stepping cadence during school march-past exhibitions and sporting events.

We definitely didn't know the extent to which the song had become a sensation all across the continent and even beyond, as it quickly became something of a standard on the champeta circuit and other African music-influenced scenes in Shakira's native Colombia. In 1988, it became a merengue hit when the all-female Las Chicas del Can from the Dominican Republic revamped it as "El Negro No Puede":

Las Chicas' "El Negro No Puede" seems to have directly inspired 1989's "El Negro No Puede (Waka Waka)" by the Dutch-Surinamese group Trafassi

and then you have the version by Dutch-Surinamese Beatmachine (featuring Trafassi's Edgar "Bugru" Burgos)

But while "Zangalewa" continues to exert its influence across South America, it's far from forgotten back home in Africa, as demonstrated by "Zamouna" from 2008, by Didier Awadi of the pioneering Senegalese hip-hop group Positive Black Soul:

Of course, I am far from the first to break the story behind "Waka Waka"; in fact, since Shakira's record dropped there's been a mini-Wimoweh-style shitstorm surrounding the song and the credit/royalties owed to the Golden Sounds. Apparently, steps are being taken to compensate the Sounds and the publicity has spurred the band (who disbanded, I think, in the early 2000s) to start contemplating a comeback. This is particularly good news to me, because underneath the buffoonery they were a pretty wicked performing outfit, as seen here in this snippet from their set at FESTAC '77 in Lagos:

What the whole "Waka Waka" story really leaves me thinking about, though, is the possibility that "Zangalewa" could be the most influential modern pop song from Africa, and more so than the oft-cited "Sweet Mother", it might be the true anthem of Africa. Which makes it all the more fitting that Shakira evoked it for this momentous event of the World Cup holding in Africa, doesn't it?

Yep... This time's for Africa!


Boebis said...

Very interesting!

Africolombia said...

the song "Zangalewa" of Golden Sounds
arrive to Colombia through the "Sound Systems" - Picós
i think that through one of these two machines rang for the first time to the public the Colombian Caribbean Costeño.

El Timbalero "El Que arroya sin Aguero"
EL Rojo "La Cobra de Barranquilla"

Check Sound Systems - Picós:

the vast majority of African songs and antilles, Jamaica, Haiti .... etc were released firstly in Colombia by Sound Systems - Picós

the Zangalewa song was very accepted and then went to radio as Trafassi, Kassav and Paul Simon "I Know What I Know" between 86 and 88 do not remember much.

Shakira danced in her childhood and I really enjoy this melody with the rest of Barranquilleros and catageneros in Colombia and she decided to record and deliver for Africa.
had some problems why South Africa was the seat and Song was from Cameroon and other inconveniences. for me the most important is the influence of African music leaves us and the union of cultures.

Africolombia said...

también avivó la discusión Wilfrido Vargas sin prosperar, pues algo del ritmo fue utilizado por él en una canción de “las chicas del can”: El negro no puede –en realidad se sabe que esta canción surge de Golden Sounds, seguramente Shakira siendo niña, y Wilfrido viajando a los Carnavales escucharon ambos esta canción popularísima en Barranquilla y Cartagena).

Anonymous said...

In 1986 i heard the Negro del Puede version for the first time form a French - spanish singer Georgie Dann , the Trafassi version is also a cover Trafassi which was a very popular Surinamese- Dutch band did not write this version themselves they just covered the Spanish version! Just for the record ... Grtz from Holland keep up the good work !Djohn

Comb & Razor said...

Grtz -

Yeah, it's quite evident that Trafassi adapted their version directly from Las Chicas del Can.