World Cup: Waka What?

World Cup fever is in full swing. I shamefully admit that I know next to nothing about sports. (And, as an American, I don’t even have to pretend I know the rules of soccer 90 percent of the time.) For all of our benefits, I think it’s best if I don’t say anything at all about the competition. After all, it was only after the USA/England game that I learned, in soccer, it’s possible for games to end in a tie. (Really?!)

I am, however, inclined to pay attention when half of the world starts watching something on TV. And, if I can’t comment on the action going on at the World Cup, at least I can say something about the music—namely, Shakira’s globally inspired, FIFA-approved official World Cup Soccer 2010 theme, “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).” If, somehow, you have not yet been exposed to its world-poppy-infectiousness, here is the equally globally inspired, FIFA-approved official World Cup Soccer 2010 music video:

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Undoubtedly, the song and video accomplishes all it sets out to do. It’s catchy. It’s vaguely inspiring. It has that spirit of countries and cultures coming together. It shows amped-up soccer footage. And it has Shakira belly dancing (always a plus).

But…”Waka Waka?”

I don’t know about you, but when I hear someone saying “Waka Waka,” I immediately think of Fozzie Bear.

I admit, I raised my eyebrow in suspicion the first time I heard “Waka Waka” right there in the chorus of the song. Maybe I would’ve been less confused if I understood the lyrics right before the offending phrase—to find out what, exactly, we’re doing for Africa this time—but it was in a language I didn’t understand.

Undeterred, I set out to do some Internet research, and what I found was quite surprising. This Wikipedia entry is pretty enlightening on the whole thing. (Granted, it’s from Wikipedia, so there is a chance that a 15-year-old made up a fantastic story, but in this case, I’m inclined to believe it, as the New York Times backs up some of this information in the references.)

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For starters, “Waka Waka” is a pidgin slang phrase from the Cameroonian Fang language. It basically means “do it,” but is derived from a shortened version of the phrase “walk while working.”

The mystery sentence that Shakira sings before that? It’s “Tsa mina mina eh eh.” “Tsa mina mina” means “come.” She also sings “Tsa mina mina zangalewa,” which means, “Where do you come from?”

Come, do it, this time for Africa! That’s a good chorus for a get-pumped-up-for-sports song.

But wait, the story doesn’t end there. It actually gets more interesting. Apparently, the entire chorus from “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” is lifted from a 1986 Cameroonian song by a band called Golden Sounds. (The song was either called “Tsamina” or “Zangaléwa.”) Golden Sounds apparently dressed up in World War II-inspired outfits, with crazy makeup and pillows stuffed into their costumes. According to Wikipedia, they stuffed their clothes ” to appear like they had a 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. Or at least, some of it was. The rest is Cameroonian slang and jargon from the soldiers during the war.” To me, it makes them look like the Cameroonian Village People. Check out Golden Sounds and the original version of the song:

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Apparently, the song was a huge hit. The Wikipedia entry claims that every person in Cameroon knows the chorus by heart (although that isn’t so hard—I know the chorus by heart after watching the video once). Still, the song has been popular in Cameroon and people across Africa use the song for the exact same reason that Shakira does—to psych people up as a rallying song. And it works—it’s pretty jaunty!

Not only that, but Wikipedia also asserts that, when it first debuted in 1986, West African DJs brought the song over to Colombia, where it was known as “The Military,” and where it was also enormously popular. Colombia—hey, that’s where Shakira’s from!

To me, it’s actually pretty clever that she was able to acknowledge both cultures like that. At the very least, it’s much more interesting than British band We Are Scientist’s very literal football tune (“Goal! England”), Weezer’s fun but kind of empty-headed pump-up jam (“Represent”), and, you know, the inevitable vuvuzela techno remix.

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