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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

Listen: the highs and lows of the World Cup's official anthems 

With the World Cup kicking off in 10 days’ time, we examine the chequered history of its official soundtracks 

Shakira‘s catchy ‘Waka Waka’ blended African grooves with Latin flair at the 2010 tournament in South Africa Sipa USA  
Shakira‘s catchy ‘Waka Waka’ blended African grooves with Latin flair at the 2010 tournament in South Africa Sipa USA  

Choosing a World Cup anthem has always been a fraught business as there are so many aspects to consider: does it represent the free-flowing spirit of football? Does it appeal to a global audience? Is the host nation mus­ically represented? And who is going to sing the track anyway?

Such questions are daunting for any music executive to ponder; yet these decisions are rarely made with an artistic impulse. Because of the event’s intensely commercial nature and myriad network of sponsors, official Fifa World Cup songs are often a mixed bag of anodyne and polite tunes with the odd roof-raising anthem. With the World Cup set to kick off in Russia on June 14, let’s take a look at some of the chosen tunes throughout the years.

2018: 'Live It Up' by Nicky Jam feat Will Smith & Era Istrefi

The latest World Cup anthem received a reception as frosty as a Russian winter. However, the track is not that bad at all. Uber-cool producer Diplo’s reggae and horn-soaked beats are well accompanied by serviceable rapping by Will Smith and crooning Kosovo Albanian dance-hall singer Era Istrefi. Once the tournament begins, the constant repetition during sporting montages will surely result in the track receiving a more positive reappraisal.

2018: Allez Lmgharba by Samira Said

Morocco’s qualification to the World Cup is great news not only for the North African country, but also for the whole region. Hence Samira Said, one of the Arab world’s most loved pop stars being enlisted to sing the official track Allez Lmgharba. While the song is a love letter to the Moroccan football squad, the upbeat rhythms and Arabic flavour will be enough to keep regional football fans excited.

1962: El Rock del Mundial by Los Ramblers

World Cup anthems had none of the mass appeal back in the old days: El Rock del Mundial is a fun and chirpy song that sounds like a Latin version of the rock staple Hound Dog, but there is nothing universal here. The song is all about the host nation Chile, and the band’s lyrics function like parochial football commentary in certain parts: “Get the rebound, goal, goal by Chile.”

1978: El Mundial by the Buenos Aires Municipal Symphony

The host nation Argentina won the tournament in spite of this tepid song. What makes this track particularly disappointing was that it was composed by none other than Ennio Morricone: the Italian is a master Hollywood composer and none of his flair for the grand and dramatic shone through in this soulless piece of elevator music.

1986: Hot Hot Hot by Arrow

This was the first great World Cup anthem, and that’s because it wasn’t recorded with the game in mind. The track was written by Caribbean artist Arrow back in 1982 for his debut album, and Hot Hot Hot, with its jubilant tropical rhythms and sun-kissed lyrics was an instant global success. Its enduring appeal allowed it to be officially adopted by a World Cup four years later in Mexico. The track was a stadium favourite and was used in later years as the theme song of 1989’s Miss Universe and the Canadian ice hockey team the Toronto Maple Leafs.

1994: Gloryland by Daryl Hall and Sounds of Blackness

We expected so much better for the United States - as host nation and citadel of modern pop-music, they should have shown us how a sky-raising anthem is done. Instead, they wheel out a past-his-prime Daryl Hall (from the soft-rockers Hall and Oates) and gospel ensemble Sounds of Blackness for a turgid track with lyrics informing us that "with every passing moment, you begin to understand, that you are bound for Gloryland." The track was so bad that it was over-shadowed by the unofficial anthem Let’s Get Loud, the song Jennifer Lopez performed at the opening ceremony.

1998: The Cup of Life by Ricky Martin

The gold standard. The greatest World Cup anthem of all time was recorded by an artist who rose to the challenge. A year before the tournament, based in France, a young and hungry Ricky Martin was asked to come up with the official anthem for the tournament. Not overawed by the daunting nature of the challenge, Martin recognised it could be his short cut to global stardom. What made Cup of Life work was that it remained true to Martin’s ethos of melding pop with Latin music. The end result is a joyous and rollicking ride of samba rhythms, horns and a chorus even a 5-year-old could memorise. While it is understandable for the French to be miffed at the lack of local elements in the track, Cup of Life energised football fans around the world and was an active participant in the tournament. The song also introduced Martin as pop music’s latest superstar, so it was mission accomplished.

2002: Boom by Anastacia

It was around this time that world anthems began to explode, with various official songs made to appear across the different nations that make up the sport’s wide demographics. For this event, jointly hosted by South Korea and Japan, up to four songs were made, spanning classical music (Anthem by Vangelis) to Spanish (Vamos Al Mundial by Jennifer Peña). English listeners sadly got the worst of the bunch; Boom by Anastacia is a forgettable piece of fluff.

2010: Waka Waka by Shakira

Which World Cup song is the best is a perennial debate, and the answer often depends on the generation you come from. After near 10 official songs spanning three World Cups failed to dislodge Ricky Martin’s Cup of Life as the most successful, Shakira’s Waka Waka arrived in 2010 to make a strong challenge for the crown. A collaboration with South African fusion group Freshlyground, the song is an insanely catchy amalgam of Latin flair and African grooves that can’t help but have you tapping along. However, unlike Cup of Life, the lyrics to Waka Waka – with references to hopping “back in the saddle” and skipping the queue – are too vague to classify it as a sporting anthem.

2014: Time of Our Lives by Ahmed Chawki

Despite Algeria being the only Arabic-speaking nation participating in the 2014 World Cup, it was enough for the tournament to commission a track partly sung in the language as an official song by Moroccan singer Ahmed Chawki. This was ultimately a good decision, as Time of Our Lives is a hidden gem. Produced by fellow Moroccan RedOne (who worked with the likes of Enrique Iglesias and Lady Gaga), Time of Our Lives is effervescent dance-pop with its fun care-free lyrics and stadium ready chorus of “Aye, aye here we go aye, this is the time of our lives.”

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