A sold-out crowd of 84,490 at Soweto’s Soccer City celebrated the launch of the World Cup in South Africa today (June 11) at the opening ceremony – a music and dance spectacular that confirmed Africa’s status as a global cultural hotbed.
The highlight and longest performance came from R. Kelly with the Soweto Spiritual Singers. Dressed in black with a shiny hoodie, the American superstar began his performance in a crouched position before unfurling to deliver a rousing version of his own song “Sign of a Victory.” The song is the Official 2010 FIFA World Cup Anthem and the opening track on Sony Music’s “Listen Up! The Official 2010 World Cup Album.”
However, former South African president Nelson Mandela had to miss the country’s celebrations due to a family tragedy. His 13-year-old great grand-daughter died in a car crash.
Starting around 2pm local time, the 30-minute event began with praise singer (an oral tradition) Zolani Mkiva in the centre of the covered pitch, with drummers accompanying his poetry.
A series of choreographed set pieces was then unleashed to a traditional music themed soundtrack. In total, the ceremony – ahead of the opening match between South Africa and Mexico – had 1,581 performers.
That these evoked the spirit of “The Lion King” (a giant-sized dung beetle puppet in particular) was no surprise: the co-producer of the opening ceremony was Lebo M, known for his work as part of the creative team of both “The Lion King” movie and Broadway production.
In selecting the music performers for the ceremony, the producers were sensitive to the notion that whilst the 2010 FIFA World Cup is being staged in South Africa for the next month, it’s being billed as the first-ever African World Cup.
South African Afro-roots singer and songwriter Thandiswa Mazwai was first up. The traditional dancing – performers used blankets to create a spectacular map of the world with Africa at its centre – was interspersed with short performances by a revolving door of recording artists. Algerian musician Khlaed and Nigeria’s Afro-beat star Femi Kuti took center stage during a segment that highlighted the six African teams taking part in the 32-country tournament.
Alongside South African Music Awards best female winner Mazwai, and veteran trumpeter Hugh Masekela, the host country was represented by kwaito (township house) originators TKZee, whose signature soccer song and huge late ’90s hit “Shibobo” earned roars of approval from the fans. The raucous vuvuzela horns rang out from the crowd during the performance.
Hip-hop star HHP was also given a few minutes to shine as was R&B singer Timothy Moloi, who was given the difficult task of singing “Hope.” The was supposed to have been performed by Siphiwo Ntshebe, the South African tenor who was killed by bacterial meningitis just weeks before the opening ceremony.