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Stealing music for football?

So finally - World Cup Football is upon us! And of course, no World Cup is complete without its official anthem. There were a few candidates this year and the forerunner surely was a song by Somalia-born rapper K’naan: “Waving Flag”. Inspiring life story, rousing singalong chorus, uplifting lyrics. A global soft drinks firm adopted the song for its latest campaign. This would have been a shoe-in for South Africa 2010.


Waka Waka/Zangaléwa
But FIFA decided otherwise. In April, it unveiled the theme tune for South Africa  2010: “Waka Waka (this time for Africa)”. FIFA partner, the Sony record company picked Colombia-born pop singer Shakira. Incidentally, Shakira may already have known this song: it had plenty airplay on Colombian radio in the 1990s…

Indeed, the first thing many listeners noticed about the piece was its familiarity. No coincidence. The original Waka Waka comes from Cameroon. There, an army band called Golden Sounds recorded a rambling 12 minutes tune called “Zangaléwa” in the mid-1980. They made the song in honour of the African soldiers who fought in colonial armies. At the same time it was a very mild satire on those African soldiers who used to oppress their own people in the name of the colonial power. The refrain of “Zangaléwa” is identical to Shakira’s “Waka Waka”.

The Golden Sounds had a smash hit with “Zangaléwa”. In fact: the band dropped the moniker Golden Sounds and adopted the song title as its name. The tune was covered by bands as far apart as Senegal and Surinam. Which begs this question: did FIFA, Sony or maybe even Shakira really think they could get away with this blatant plagiarism? Literally millions of people know the original and word would of course get back to Cameroon that someone had stolen one of the nation’s most cherished tunes. Which it duly did.

These are matters of copyright infringement. However, there is a problem with this, says lawyer and creative copyright expert William Hochberg: ‘You have two important kinds of copyright. One them is the copyright in the song itself and the other is in the recording of the song. Now it is a lot easier to handle a case in which you have to deal with a recording…you have a fingerprint.’

And there’s the rub. Nowhere in the Shakira recording is the original Golden Sounds recording used, for instance as a sample. It’s just the re-recording of an old song. And that brings into focus the other, the more difficult kind of copyright. Hochberg again: ‘The problem that may arise here is, first of all: who wrote the song? You had it recorded by the Golden Sounds but it appears to date back to the Cameroonian riflemen during the Second World War. So it’s possible that the lawyers at Sony took a look at it and said: this is free and clear.’

The Cameroonian press has been less charitable. True, reconciliatory language has been employed by – among others – Jean Paul Bé Zella, one of the leaders of the band. He told the newspaper Cameroon Tribune that he was glad his band’s song had been revived. He would, however, like to be paid for the privilege. The impression one gets here is that the world football body and the huge record company knew that this was a big tune – and that they still could get away with stealing a bit of it. What does Hochberg make of this line of thinking?

‘That’s a calculation that may well have gone through a record company’s lawyer’s mind. But if there is a copyright that is actually owned by the Cameroonian Army, you would think they probably have the resources to mount a legal battle anywhere in the world.’


Which is precisely what another renowned Cameroonian artist did. Manu Dibango's 1972 worldwide hit “Soul Makossa” was blatantly plagiarized by Michael Jackson for use in his big selling album Thriller. There were two things working in Dibango’s favour: his tune was widely known and comparing his song with Jackson’s tune made the thievery beyond obvious. (A situation that, incidentally, mirrors the Zangléwa/Waka Waka situation.) Dibango sued, they settled out of court, and the Cameroon musician sent a graceful obituary from France when Jackson died.

[related-articles] There have been plenty more cases involving US-based artists availing themselves of Cameroonian music without paying. Some went to court, as was the case with Tala André Marie, who successfully sued James Brown for stealing one of his tunes. But most were settled - and the Shakira/Zangaléwa case is heading in the same direction.

In May it was announced that the band, Sony and Shakira’s management had reached an out-of-court settlement, following a vigorous internet campaign and protracted negotiations. Zangaléwa are even coming out of retirement and will be enjoying their “Buena Vista Social Club” moment – thanks to South Africa 2010.