Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Day 6 - Waka Waka: This Time For Africa

There is World Cup fever in South Korea and what an experience it is to see the excitement during a game! Last night I stayed awake until 3am, at which point I went to meet Kyeongmi, Jaehyeok, Yuseong and Woods to go out and watch the South Korea vs. Nigeria game which would determine who stays and who goes in the standings. The streets at 3am, even in sleepy 'ol JinJu, were full of people all dressed in red, adorning flashing devil horns, tattoos on their faces and draped in flags. 
The game was an exciting one, with Korea trailing by one goal for most of the 90 minutes of play time. Luckily the game ended with a score of 2:2, and because of Korea's previous win, this means that Korea advances and Nigeria doesn't. It was a happy ending as the bars let out to the streets filled with thousands of happy, drunk and tired people cheering and chanting in the dawn-lit streets of the University neighbourhood we were in.
South Koreans received world-wide recognition during the 2002 FIFA Wold Cup when Korea and Japan co-hosted the event and made it further in the standings than anyone expected. At this time the country went into full-fledged patriotic supportive celebration during each game. People created huge crowds throughout the country, watching games on big outdoor screens and having massive street parties. During that year's Wolrd Cup chants and shouts became the theme songs of the world cup enthusiasm and can now be heard everywhere here! People mostly chant Daehan-minguk!! (followed by a series of 5 claps) which translates to the traditional world for Korea.
Just before coming to South Korea while wrapping up the year at school, the students in the Eagle Nest would get excited about our days by beginning them with a little dance party. On many mornings we danced around the room to the FIFA World Cup theme song, Waka Waka (This Time For Africa). We all liked this song for numerous reasons - it's extremely catchy, it's fun to dance like Shakira (and they know I like her), there is an awesome video of African animals playing with a soccer ball and people doing the "soccer dance" which the kids go crazy over, and it's just a fun and happy way to spend 3:31.
After reading some fairly heavy criticism of the song, especially because it's not sung by a South African, I wanted to learn more about its roots. I should also point out that if you're into watching the videos and enjoying the song for yourself, the Spanish version is so much more beautiful than the English (and true for most of Shakira's songs). It is obvious that the song had African inspiration and quite possibly an interesting history, so I went about YouTube to learn what I could about this. I found out that Shakira did indeed collaborate with a current South African group called Freshly Ground to create this new hit single, but it's the Cameroonian roots of the song that I found much more interesting. The chorus of the song is borrowed from a huge 1986 hit called "Zangaléwa" by amakossa group called Golden Sounds. Apparently, this song was brought to Cartagena, Colombia by West African DJs between 1988 and 1989 and likewise became an instant hit along the Caribbean coast where Shakira was born and raised. In Colombia, the song was known as "The Military" due to the photograph on the cover of the album, where members of The Golden Sounds appeared dressed in military uniforms. 
Here is some additional information about the history of the song Zangaléwa, and its military influence taken from:
The original version was such a hit that the group, Golden Sounds, even changed their name to Zangaléwa. Golden Sounds was made up of members of the Presidential Guard: Emile Kojidie, Victor Dooh Belley and group leader Ze Bella. They wore funny costumes and make up - including pillows to accentuate their butts and bellies - which was apparently a stab at the army general "fat cats" who collaborated with the white colonialists to enrich themselves.
The band was well-known and produced army marching songs that became very popular. Zangaléwa, in particular, was their defining song. According to the Spanish wikipedia entry: "This song is a priori language interpreted Fang, corresponding to areas of Gabon, southern Cameroon in Equatorial Guinea and a little east of the Central Africa."
The argument goes that "Za engalomwa" in the Fang language means “Who sent you?” and this is the refrain of a Cameroonian soldier to his fellow troops. The term Zangaléwa has also come from an expression in Ewondo: "Loé wa za anga?" translated as “Who called you?” Since Cameroon is multilingual and not all the soldiers could speak Ewondo, it is likely that over time the term wa za anga Loé became the Zangaléwa that we know today in a form of pidgin language corruption.
According to a member of the band, when young recruits of the Republican Guard complained about the rigours of military life, their senior officers would ask: Loé wa za anga?, which would ask: "Who made you join the army?"

I find the valiant soldier fighting in a war metaphor quite interesting. Around the world it is used to represent passion, determination and endurance.  It can also be used more generally to symbolize hard work and dedication. We see in sports, religion, music and movies. To me it seems like such a poor choice of symbolism, one which distorts and glorifies perceptions of military and war. Isn't it time to create a new vision of the honourable fighter?

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