The World Cup, Filling Dancefloors Since 1962 


The World Cup, Filling Dancefloors Since 1962 

My earliest memory of the World Cup dates back to 1998. My mother’s living room, fully packed, laughter and good cheer, bated breaths, and all eyes glued on the TV. While I cannot remember the finer details of the thrilling encounters of the tournament in France, Ricky Martin’s La Copa De La Vida (The Cup of Life) which was one of the two songs that offered an auditory backdrop to the competition, remains etched in memory. Football fan or not, the song had its way of gripping you. “Go Go… Allez Allez’’, you would hear children and adults alike chant away. 

Then years on there was Anastacia’s “Boom“; Il Divo and Toni Braxton’s “The Time of Our Lives“; Shakira and Freshlyground’s “Waka Waka“; Pitbull, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte’s “Ole Ola“ and in 2018 in Russia came Nicky Jam, Will Smith and Era Istrefi’s “Live It Up“. 

Once again, the FIFA World Cup is upon us and packed into the month-long football extravaganza is more eclectic music—official and unofficial—waiting to permeate our collective consciousness. And for the first time since the tournament engrained music into its identity, instead of one official song, the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) has a multi-song collection that will soundtrack the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. 

Building on the decades-long trend that has become as popular as the game itself, the Middle East’s first hosting promises a treat with a refreshing medley of genres and talents from across the world.

First on the official soundtrack is “Hayya Hayya (Better Together)”. An earworm. Released in April and boasting of 32 Million views so far on Youtube, the song teams up US RnB singer Trinidad Cardona, Nigeria’s Davido and Qatar’s own Aisha Al-Aziani, whose shot to fame was first as an Instagram sensation. The song  is a mashup of RnB and reggae grooves underscored by signature double claps and Khaliji percussion that represent Qatar’s musical tradition.

Then there is “Arhbo”. A banger. French-Congolese rapper Gims in duet with Puerto Rican Latin trap and reggaeton star Ozuna. The song that borrows its name from the Qatari slang for welcome, fuses Latin pop, Afro-pop and Khaleeji sounds pompously delivered in Spanish, French and English.

Then a euphoric dance pop. “Light the Sky”. Living up to the celebratory spirit of the tournament, the song is an all-female collaboration featuring Emirati singer Balqees, Moroccan-Canadian sensation Nora Fatehi, Iraqi superstar Rahma Riad and award-winning singer-songwriter Manal, from Morocco. The video of the song pays homage to the first-ever female referees officiating the men’s World Cup.

Finally a rap. Lil Baby bands together with Budweiser, the Official Beer of the FIFA World Cup in sampling Tears for Fears’—an English pop rock band—iconic hit song, Everybody Wants to Rule the World.

But how did music become such an integral body of the world’s most popular spectator event, you may wonder.

Long before FIFA started forking out huge cheques for artists to crank up pop hits, football and music have always been inextricably intertwined. The music was embodied in team anthems, pulsating cries and chants from fans and sometimes in players pre-match routine.

As for the World Cup though, it wasn’t until 1962 that music was adopted as part of its act.

During the tournament’s seventh edition in Chile, a Chilean Jazz and Rock band, Los Ramblers charmed the crowd in the terraces with El Rock del Mundial (The World Cup Rock). A fun and chirpy song that starts off with a Chuck Berry lick before settling into a groovy flow and that sings praises of Chile and football. The song was written and produced by Jorge Rojas who had formed the group two years earlier in November 1959. 

After Chile, came Lonnie Donegan’s catchy jingle in 1966 in England, World Cup Willie that was an ode to England’s mascot Lion Willie. Coincidentally, Lion Willie marked the onset of mascots into the World Cup event. Thereafter, the trend would continue throughout the resulting decades and music is now woven into the very fabric of the quadrennial event.

By the 1990s, the music bug had hit FIFA so hard that they had to have their own anthem. FIFA commissioned Franz Lambert, who composed the instrumental song while Rob May and Simon Hill arranged it. The anthem in its instrumental form was played for the first time during the 1994 World Cup and thereafter became a mainstay of subsequent tournaments and all FIFA-sponsored events. FIFA even went on to add soundtracks to their gaming franchise. 

As the years have gone on, the music tradition has become an ever bigger part of the World Cup and even taken on a life of its own. Songs are now an intentional part of FIFA’s sound strategy, bringing artists, fans and players together to share their passion by combining the universal languages of football and music. A celebration of two great pastimes.

Songs that make the cut as World Cup anthems or official songs are usually multilingual and include English, the official language of the host country and languages of other FIFA Partners regions. The main picks for Qatar 2022 have incorporated Arabic (host country), French, English and Spanish.

For artists, landing a spot to perform in the World Cup has become a huge feat as the event has become synonymous with springboarding artists to fame or even greater fame. K’naan’s infectious anthem “Wavin’ Flag”, although a Coca-Cola promotional anthem and not an official FIFA song, became a wildly popular global hit. In addition to FIFA’s official anthem, brand partners like Coca-Cola (Budweiser with the 2022 hit) also designate an official promotional anthem. Shakira’s “Waka Waka”, the official anthem for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, went on to achieve platinum status.

Further back, after being selected to perform “The Cup of Life” as the 1998 World Cup anthem that catapulted him to a star virtually everywhere else in the world, Martin won a Grammy. The same went for the Los Ramblers. Their song El Rock del Mundial became a major hit in South America and  sold over two million copies. 

Eventually World Cup winners, incredible goals and their scorers are what we will reminisce about when it’s all done and dusted, but the excitement of the FIFA World Cup is equally exemplified by the music. As the stage is set in Qatar for the competition that has countries betting their national pride on their soccer teams, the musical performances need to slap.

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