It’s hard enough to get Americans pumped up to watch a bunch of other country’s teams play soccer, but one thing we can all agree on is that the crazy-quilt Pangaea of World Cup anthems is an amazing spectacle to behold. From Shakira’s Official FIFA World Cup song “Waka Waka (This Time for Africa)” to Russell Brand and Robbie Williams’ remake of England’s unofficial soccer song, “Three Lions,” there are a head-spinning array of choices when it comes to soccer soundtracks for the planet’s biggest sporting event.
Colombian hip-swiveler Shakira teamed up with South Africa’s Freshlyground for the tournament’s official song. The propulsive Afro-techno “Waka Waka” has the perfect mix of inspirational lyrics — “The pressure’s on, you feel it/ It’s time for Africa, your time to shine” — and a raise-the-roof vibe that you can picture pumping out of stereos from Johannesburg to Pittsburgh.
No slouch in the inspiration department, Mr. “I Believe I Can Fly” himself, R. Kelly, also cooked up an official FIFA World Cup anthem with a little ditty he calls “Sign of a Victory.” The collabo with the Soweto Spiritual Singers choir — who will perform the song with Kelly at Friday’s opening ceremonies — bubbles along on a syncopated, African percussion beat while Kelly sings, “I can feel the spirit of the nation/ And I can feel my wings riding the wind.” The choir backs him up with an uplifting, wordless chant under the chorus “That’s the sign of a victory.” He also manages to incorporate the phrases, “let the games begin,” “we can achieve anything, including the impossible,” “raise the flag” and “scream like you want to win.”
Somalian/Canadian rapper K’Naan also went the inspirational route with his official Coca-Cola anthem, “Wavin’ Flag,” which has the rising-up-from-oppression vibe of a classic Bob Marley tune. With assists from Will.I.Am and David Guetta, the soaring tune camouflages a song about poverty and oppression in a heart-stirring call to arms to let your banner fly.
Pepsi wasn’t about to get aced out of this action, so it recruited Akon and Keri Hilson to make a video with soccer stars Lionel Messi of Argentina and Ivory Coast’s Didier Drogba called “Oh Africa,” as part of the celebration of the continent’s first hosting duty for the global event. It also has the obligatory South African township jive stomp, and like the other songs, is as much about Africa’s spot in the sun as it is about sports.
And because there’s probably some rule about Bono having to participate in any globally unifying event, the U2 singer hooked up with Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo and John Legend for a thumping, Afro-pop cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.”
Another cover that was recorded as an unofficial English World Cup anthem is a banging remake of Tears for Fears’ “Shout” called “Shout for England,” laid down by U.K. rapper Dizzee Rascal and actor James Corden at the behest of former “American Idol” judge Simon Cowell. It has a thundering chorus that adds a thick acid-house beat to the original tune as Rascal spits lyrics to inspire England’s soccer stars to victory.
For no apparent reason, New York’s We Are Scientists have also offered up a song for England’s club, the appropriately named, “Goal! England,” a slice of T. Rex-inspired garage rock thunder that features the unforgettable lines, “Kicking the kicking the kicking the kicking the ball/ Kicking it into the goal/ Go, go, go, go go … England!”
Then there is the official FIFA Mascot song from Cuban-American rapper Pitbull, who hooked up with South African group TKZee and England’s Dario G to let the dogs out for the high NRG club banger “Game On.” Taking things a little less seriously is U.K. legend Robbie Williams, who formed “The Squad” with comedians Russell Brand, Daniel Baddiel and Frank Skinner to record a remake of England’s unofficial soccer song, “Three Lions.” The mash of opera, a soaring choir singing, “It’s coming home/ Football’s coming home,” a bouncy, Madness-like ska pop vibe and self-deprecating soccer-centric lyrics about England’s chances of regaining football glory make for a lovably comic mess.
Among the other acts on the FIFA-sanctioned soundtrack to the international soccer showdown, Listen Up!: The Official 2010 FIFA World Cup Album, are: Nneka (“Viva Africa”), Matisyahu featuring Nameless (“One Day”), Wyclef Jean, J Pre, Jazmine Sullivan and B. Howard (“Ke Nako”), and late South African opera singer Siphiwo Ntshebe (known as the “black Pavarotti”) featuring former South African president Nelson Mandela (“Hope”).
And of course, if none of these tunes provide the right kick, there’s always the unofficial World Cup Song contest, with nearly 400 entries. The top five is currently dominated by England, with Christian singer Gerry Asmus’ “It’s Our Game,” a flowery pop piffle about King George and English pride, holding down the top spot at press time.