How K'Naan's Song Became Coca-Cola's World Cup Soundtrack

K'Naan world cup flags

The song that's destined to be forever associated with the 2010 World Cup came to its creator in a split second in the summer of 2007. Somali-born rapper K'Naan was taking a break from recording his debut album at Sony Studios in New York. The melody came to him suddenly as he walked through the damp streets after a rain shower, making him dash back to the studio and abandon the track he had been working on, in favor of what would become "Wavin' Flag." "I was kind of in a frenzy," recalls K'Naan (pronounced KAY-non), back in New York for a round of promotion. "It was one of those songs that overtakes and consumes you."

K'Naan featuring David Bisbal, "Wavin' Flag"

While Coke and A&M/Octone declined to discuss financial details, K'Naan likely garnered $1 million-plus in combined cash and promotional dollars committed. In addition to paying an overall project license fee to use the master recording-probably deeply discounted from the standard per-usage fees-and a similarly negotiated deal with co-publishers A&M/Octone and Sony/ATV, the project included payments to K'Naan for nearly nine months of personal appearances. As K'Naan is in a 360 deal with Universal, the label is a beneficiary of each revenue stream.

"I don't think the Coke relationship will terminate following the World Cup," A&M/Octone Records president/CEO James Diener says. "They are invested in K'Naan for the duration of his career."

K'Naan was the main attraction at many dates on the Trophy Tour-performing in Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, Italy, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, Japan, Canada and at the May 2 finale at the University of Houston-while his music featured heavily everywhere on the 84-country itinerary.

For its part, Coca-Cola loved the song but noted that lyrical references to "a violent prone, poor people zone" and people "struggling, fighting to eat" didn't fit the campaign's themes. "The crucial moment in the discussion came when K'Naan said, 'I can take that song, refashion some of the lyrics and give you an exclusive version,' " Diener says. "That's an attempt on K'Naan's part to revitalize the song in the spirit of the World Cup."

"I saw it as an opportunity to reach more people," K'Naan says. "I don't work for Coke or anything; what I do is my music. This was a really great opportunity for them to use my song, without compromising my integrity as a musician. This is what I write, these are the songs I make. I'm happy about it."

And reaching more people seems guaranteed thanks to the international versions that will ensure the song makes a global impact beyond even Coca-Cola's marketing efforts.

In Spain and Latin America, the track features Latin superstar David Bisbal, who has sold 4.5 million albums worldwide, according to Universal. Universal Music Spain released the new version of "Wavin' Flag" April 15, but isn't actively promoting the song until the campaign for Bisbal's latest single, "Sin Mirar Atras" (Vale/Universal), is over.

Universal will release "Troubadour" June 1 in Spain. Vale Music marketing director Domingo Garcia says the Bisbal connection will help get the record heard, predicting "Wavin' Flag" could be a No. 1 song. "This will carry a lot of prestige, as Bisbal has probably been the second-biggest Spanish act in the world after Alejandro Sanz in the past decade," Garcia says. "The fact it's at least half in Spanish helps a great deal. Duets reach a wider audience, and as this one is Coca-Cola's official World Cup song, the audience is virtually guaranteed."

In Japan, K'Naan hooks up with local pop star AI, with the new version reaching No. 33 on Billboard's Japan Hot 100 chart. "Troubadour" came out in Japan last June, but has attracted minimal interest to date-something execs now expect to change.

"No one knows K'Naan in Japan," says Kimitaka Kato, managing director of international at Universal Music Japan. "In order to break him here we need the participation of a credible Japanese singer who is good enough to sing with him and popular enough to attract people to the project. AI was perfect for that."

In the United States, A&M/Octone plans to promote "Wavin' Flag" at Latin (the Bisbal version) and mainstream radio formats (the Guetta remix), starting in mid-June. "Troubadour" is being rereleased in a deluxe World Cup edition with the new duets, mixes and videos added. K'Naan is currently booking a headlining U.S. tour for the fall, with additional singles from "Troubadour" likely to follow.

But if a wider international audience for the artist seems guaranteed, Seuge is looking for the advertising campaign itself to influence the way brands and artists work together in the future. He says, "I'd like to change the way we work with the music industry, in a true, collaborative way, trying to reinvent the way brands can be a key player."

And, certainly, this could prove to be a rare instance of a campaign breaking an artist simultaneously around the world. Diener hails the Coca-Cola team as "very shrewd," adding: "Even though he's there promoting their brand, they're really trying to prove that this kind of branding-especially with the right amount of time to set it up-can be very powerful for his career."

"If this project can be a legacy about how we work with and engage the music industry in our projects in a different way," Seuge says, "that would be a great success metric."

And if it seems a long way from a song about Somalian freedom fighters to talk of a major brand's "success metric," well, K'Naan-who will perform "Wavin' Flag" at FIFA's June 10 World Cup Kick-Off Celebration Concert at Soweto's Orlando Stadium-believes the power of his music will win out.

K'Naan says, "I find it exciting that ["Wavin' Flag" is] melodically acceptable in so many cultures, that it agrees with people's spirits in so many different places. "That's what I love about music, that it can be so much more vast than speeches or factual things," he adds. "A suit may not fit the same people in different places, but this feeling does."