The Music of the FIFA World Cup

With the World Cup poised to enter the quarter-final stage, and all the melting-pot related cliches exhausted; one might be forgiven for overlooking the influence global music has had on the tournament – and vice versa. The tournament, while serving obviously as an arena for those with gifted feet to showcase their talent, has also been a stage for an assorted array of global talents to take us on a Sony Music Entertainment-sponsored musical journey through the ages.

While the FIFA World Cup has always been associated with music, in some form or the other, it is only in relatively recent times that Big Music has seen fit to channel the efforts of the biggest acts in music, in creating a unique voice for each tournament edition. One of the earlier attempts in recent times at cashing in on the sport’s global craze, was during USA 1994 – remembered best for a Brazilian victory courtesy a Roberto Baggio penalty miss, and to a lesser extent – the rousing anthem ‘Gloryland’, juxtaposed with clips of America’s most famed tourist spots, as FIFA hoped to breake into that fiefdom of baseball and American football.

1998 – The Best World Cup Music Till Date

The next edition of the tournament, held in France, would see Sony Music Entertainment take a gamble by going with world music, instead of music exclusively from the host nation. Betting on world music, for a global tournament, would prove to be a huge success – as a plethora of artistes, both renowned and lesser-known, lent a truly international feel to France 1998.

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Youssou N�Dour attends the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative Gala Dinner at The Royal Opera House on December 6, 2009 in London, England.  (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)
Youssou N’Dour – Voice of a Continent

The Official Anthem of France ’98 – the mellow ‘La Cour Des Grands’, a duet in French by the smooth-toned Youssou N’Dour and the sultry Axelle Red, was non-formulaic – in the sense that it did not sacrifice on the principles of good music merely on the pretext of being a sports anthem. Getting the voice of Africa, to collaborate with Belgium’s hottest female star, was a stroke of genius as ‘La Cour Des Grands’ won hearts around the world.

In contrast, the Official Song was an exuberant celebration of life, aptly titled ‘La Copa De La Vida’ by Ricky Martin – the Latin world’s biggest pop sensation thanks to his hit ‘Maria’. With an infectious beat, and a get-on-your-feet-and-dance rhythm, ‘La Copa De La Vida‘ soared up the charts threatening to overshadow the footballing headlines at times.

MILAN, ITALY - JUNE 22: Ricky Martin attends the Giorgio Armani Milan Fashion Week Menswear Spring/Summer 2011 show on June 22, 2010 in Milan, Italy. (Photo by Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)
Ricky Martin – And the Cup overfloweth

Other stand-out tracks from the tournament’s collection of songs, was Chumbawamba’s characteristic Top of the World – a seemingly eternal ode to the under-achieving England side. The wordless techno-inspired hit ‘Rendez-Vous 98′, courtesy Jean Michel Jarre and ApolloFourForty, added an additional dimension to an exciting CD while the tear-jerkingly inspiring track ‘Don’t Come Home Too Soon’ from Scottish band Del Amitri expressed the hopes of their entire-footballing nation with the lines

“The World may not be shaking yeah,
But you might prove them wrong,
Even lone sharks may kill…
Just dont come home too soon”.

The best track of the compilation, and perhaps the most underrated, was the the Italian contribution ‘Il Bello Della Vita’ courtesy national talent Spagna – lending her glorious voice to a song penned by Emilio Estefan.

2002 – A Disappointing Compilation

After the heady heights of France 1998, most music afficionados were disappointed with the album released in conjunction with the 2002 FIFA World Cup. Starting off with Anastacia’s incredibly nasal ‘Boom’ – a shocking choice for Official Song of the tournament, the tournament’s music continued to disappoint. The few stand-out tracks include the Desmond Child-written ‘Live for Love United’ – sung by 45 of the world’s greatest football stars of that era, and the peppy-but-pointless track ‘Let’s Get Loud’ from Jennifer Lopez. Nelly Furtado failed to impress with her generic track ‘Party’, as did Brazil’s Communion with their track ‘Gol’.

Two versions of the Official Anthem were released – the first was the JS Radio Edit, a spectacularly remixed version that served as the tournament’s track of choice. The original version of the anthem was also retained, in its classy hymn-like avatar, courtesy Vangelis’ collaboration with the traditional percussion groups of South Korea and Japan. Running for four and a half minutes, the anthem was undoubtedly a work of genius, although one couldn’t help but think the track was out of place, in an album dedicated to the biggest sporting spectacle in the world.

2006 – A Misplaced Masterpiece

Sony Music Entertainment got their act together, ensuring the German edition of the World Cup held in 2006, would offer a better range of music. Taking a cue from France 1998, they called upon one of the greatest voices of our era – Toni Braxton, to fashion a masterpiece with the superbly talented operatic group Il Divo. The end result was the spine-tingling magical track The Time of Our Lives’, a confluence of the R&B style of Braxton and the haunting voices of Il Divo, garnering Sony Music Entertainment their most critically-acclaimed Official Song.

Adding to the overt influence of R&B on that edition’s compilation, Whitney Houston joined in with her beautiful song ‘One Moment in Time’ as did Mariah Carey with ‘Hero’. In an album studded with big-names like Michael Jackson, Elton John, Rod Stewart, George Michael, Savage Garden, WestLife, Kelly Clarkson, Sony overreached themselves by losing sight of the fact that ‘Voices’ was supposed to be a FIFA World Cup album. What materialized was an album, that lived up to its name ‘Voices’ – a collection of the best vocal talents in the musical world, although not necessarily a great football compilation.

The Official Anthem was the disappointing ‘Celebrate the Day’ instead of the more appropriate ‘I Believe in You’ from Celine Dion and Il Divo. Arguably the best, and most underrated track, was the stringy soulful ‘Piu Bella Cosa’ from Eros Ramazzotti.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - JUNE 09: K'Naan conducts TV Interviews at Soccer City in preparation for FIFA World Cup Kick-off Celebration Concert Day 1 at Soccer City on June 9, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Michelly Rall/Getty Images for Live Earth Events)
K’naan – high on rhythm, low on lyrics

2010 – A Chance at Redemption?

The 2010 FIFA World Cup has already registered itself in the forefront of our collective imagination with the Coca-Cola sponsored anthem ‘Waving Flag’, by Canadian-Somalian K’naan collaborating with a host of international talents across the globe. The version with David Bisbal has already set the Spanish world afire, with its admittedly catchy tune albeit poor lyrics while the Arabic version with Nancy Ajram is very popular in West Asia.

However, Waving Flag is not one of the tracks on the FIFA World Cup 2010 official compilation – an album that has come in for criticism from various quarters. The Official Song ‘Waka Waka’ by Colombian singer Shakira featuring a South African act Freshlyground seems to have set the charts afire, but has been roundly booed for its perceived lack of due recognition of African talent in a primarily African World Cup.

The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup Anthem ‘Sign of a Victory’ is a better track, and betrays an increasing reliance from FIFA on R&B for its anthems, as R. Kelly takes the lead on it.

Jun. 04, 2010 - Madrid, Spain - epa02187478 Colombian singer Shakira poses during an event organized by UNICEF to present a set of t-shirts to raise funds for 'Pies Descalzos Foundation (Barefoot Foundation)' in Madrid, central Spain, on 04 June 2010. The t-shirts are inspired in the South Africa Soccer FIFA World Cup 2010 official song 'Waka waka (This time for frica)', which Shakira will sing at the World Cup opening ceremony on 11 June. 'Pies Descalzos' is a Colombian charity founded by pop artist Shakira in 1997.
Shakira – Waka and smell the coffee

The tournament chant ‘Ke Nako’ features as a track on the album courtesy the musical talents of J Pre and Wyclef Jean. Another stand-out track ‘Hope’ features Nelson Mandela with a message of hope – dedicated to a world torn apart by strife and lending a poignant touch to a tournament often seen as an all-out celebration.

55 Responses to “The Music of the FIFA World Cup”

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  1. Subhasish says:

    Awesome read. Thank you.

  2. redNblack_blood says:

    i remember i wasn’t even a teenager then when “The cup of life” came out and till this date its my fav wc song..

  3. tess says:

    Anastacia has a great voice . Boom is not a Great song but what do you do if you are an American asked to write a song about a sport you know nothing about .

  4. shakira_rox says:

    Wonderfully different article :)

  5. redNblack_blood says:

    @tess — 😀

  6. redNblack_blood says:

    also moving away from world cup, for me personally E-type campione – the offical song for Euro-2000 is right at the top

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