Soweto township, site of the World Cup’s opening game, rocked Thursday to some of the biggest names in music.
Colombian popstar Shakira, Somali-born rapper K’naan and U.S.’ soul singer Alicia Keys entertained a country feverish with anticipation hours before kick-off.
Tens of thousands of people braved temperatures below 10 degrees in Johannesburg to attend a star-studded inaugural World Cup gig in Orlando Stadium, where K’naan stole the show with his football anthem Waving Flag.
Long after he had left the stage, the crowd was still chanting “oh, oh, oh.” “South Africa is rocking, South Africa is cool,” President Jacob Zuma told the 34,000 people who packed the venue on the eve of Friday’s opening match between South Africa and Mexico in nearby Soccer City stadium.
Many came wrapped in the colours of the South African jersey or flag. The German Press Agency DPA even spotted a rainbow mohawk, mixed in among the Stetsons and sombreros of some visiting fans from the United States and Mexico.
“Africa is the cradle of humanity,” said Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who wore a yellow national jersey, scarf and hat on stage, performing one of his trademark jigs as he spoke. “We welcome you home. We are all Africans!” A visibly exhausted Danny Jordaan, chief executive of the local World Cup organizing committee, kept repeating: “The waiting is over, the waiting is over.” Mr. Zuma, who opened the show with the president of World Cup organizing body FIFA, said that by hosting the World Cup Africa was showing the world it is “capable of handling any matter of the world.” Soul singer Lira, a Soweto native, kick-started the evening with Pata Pata, the trademark song of the late singer Miriam Makeba, South Africa’s “Mama Africa,” accompanied by Makeba’s ex—husband, jazz trumpeter Hugh Masekela.
U.S. hip hip outfit the Black Eyed Peas followed up with a thumping performance of their hit I Gotta Feeling (Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night).
It was a pregnant Alicia Keys, with an acoustic version of Empire State of Mind, K’naan, South African black rock group BLK JKS and Shakira who really electrified the crowd.
“This is one of the best shows I’ve seen in my life,” said Uciel Rodrigues, 29, from Mexico City, who had marked out hexagons in his shaved head and painted them the green, white and green of the Mexican flag.
Shakira, who wore a zebra—patterned top in a nod to her surroundings, and South African Afropop group Freshly Ground closed the concert with their official World Cup song Waka Waka (This Time for Africa).
The song was slammed when it was launched in April as “too Latino— sounding” for the first World Cup in Africa, but appears since to have grown on South Africans.
There was also a bit of grumbling in South Africa, initially, about the concert line—up. Local musicians complained there were too few local acts, forcing organisers to rummage for more home-grown talent at the last minute.
More than 10 of the main acts were African including at least six from the host country.
Proceeds from the gig, which was broadcast to millions worldwide, will be donated to a FIFA campaign to build 20 centres for football and social development in impoverished communities across Africa.