Oh no she didn’t.

(Shakira gets asked about the origins of “Waka Waka” about 30 seconds into this press conference during the World Cup in South Africa.)

Seriously, who didn’t already know this song when they heard its reincarnation as “Waka Waka”? The very first time I heard it, I was nine, spending one of many family vacations in the motherland. And I won’t even tell you how long ago that was. I shouldn’t have to anyway, since Chief Boima covered this months ago, and traced the song back to its origin in Cameroon.

But what’s all that to Shakira and FIFA? They are, after all, engaging in yet another tried and true pastime: undermining African peoples’ intellectual and artistic rights. From an excellent post by Dibussi Tande:

For decades, African artists have had their works plagiarized by the West with little or no compensation or acknowledgement. The most memorable example of the theft of the intellectual rights of an African artist is that of Solomon Popoli Linda who in 1939 wrote the song Mbube and received 10 shillings (less than $US 2) for his efforts. The song which later became the pop hit The Lion Sleeps Tonight was reinterpreted by dozens of American artists without Linda or his family receiving a dime. In fact he died penniless. In 1995, The Lion Sleeps Tonight earned an estimated $15 million dollars just for its use in the movie Lion King – a movie which has since grossed about 800 million USD worldwide. Linda’s descendants sued Walt Disney for 1.5 million dollars with the full backing of the South African government. Disney settled for an undisclosed sum just as the trial was about to begin.

Back to those who believe that the Zangalewa should just enjoy their 15 minutes of fame and shut up, I would like to remind them that Waka Waka is not just any song; it is the official anthem of the FIFA World Cup, the  world’s most popular and lucrative sporting event. Not only do the Zangalewa deserve a check from Shakira and Sony each time the song is played, they are also entitled to royalties from all FIFA merchandise that will be tied to the song (video games, action figures, toys, ring tones, etc.). From a career perspective, this is the best time for Zangalewa to make use of the moment. For example, having all of their albums and songs available on itunes, releasing a Greatest Hits album along with their old videos, and completing their official website which is “under Construction” would be a good starting point. In the meantime, artists who still believe that they can use songs by African artists without authorization or without crediting them should realize that in this age of the Internet, they will be found out and exposed sooner rather than later …

As they say, streets is watching.

Sidenote: If you’ve got 11 minutes, here is a particularly ridiculous Al Jazeera interview in which she refers to Zangalewa as a “Cameroonian chant.”

Further Reading