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Concert review: World Cup kick-off concert in Johannesburg, South Africa

June 10, 2010 |  5:04 pm

“It's time for Africa,” boomed the voice of the announcer in Johannesburg's Orlando Stadium on Thursday, at the climax of the all-star concert kicking off soccer's World Cup. “It's time for Shakira!”

The announcement laid bare an inconsistency that many consider a problem as Africa celebrates its first time hosting this massive sporting event. The tourney's official anthem is a cover of the Cameroonian song “Waka Waka” by the Colombian pop star Shakira, who headlined Thursday's show. Many South Africans have protested the choice of a non-African artist as the World Cup's musical voice; this concert occurred in the wake of the debate and staged its own argument about where African music resides in the world.

The event, telecast on ESPN2 and streamed live on Vevo.com, featured more African performers than visitors, spanning generations, styles and national borders. Venerated elder Hugh Masakela was first to appear, playing his flugelhorn in accompaniment to the young South African star Lira. Others featured included the Malians Amadou & Mariam and Vieux Farka Toure, the desert rock band Tinariwen, Beninoise singer Angelique Kidjo and South African folk hero Vusi Mahlasela.

Somali expat K'Naan, who now lives in Canada, brought down the house with his “Wavin' Flag,” which many had hoped would become the tournament's official anthem. Kidjo and Mahlasela performed separately and together, sampling from their rich catalogs to present a variety of African music, including protest cries and party shouts.

African rock music got its moment too, as BLK JKS shared the stage with Alicia Keys for a Curtis Mayfield-style jam. Goth-flavored rockers the Parlotones got a song, as did the hip-hop group Big Nuz featuring DJ Tira though that lively bunch was seen only on the Internet stream, sacrificed to a commercial break on television.

The varied sounds made by these stars -- most of whom have successful crossover careers in Europe and America -- placed the day's non-African performers in context.

Keys and John Legend worked extra hard to keep their short sets groovy, tapping into the spirit of African drumming that permeated the whole show. The Black Eyed Peas opened with a fairly standard set, but members will.i.am and Taboo made cameo appearances with other artists that indicated the consummate pop group's desire to make global connections (or to maintain global domination).

Taboo's moment came during an excellent set by Colombian singer Juanes, whose soukous-flavored guitar lines and rolling rhythms brightly illustrated how Latin music belongs to the African diaspora. The Chicano member of the Peas offered a sharp rap and shouted “Viva Mexico,” in favor of his favorite soccer team.

Joining K'Naan, will.i.am grabbed whatever flag was handy at what could have been the concert's crowning moment, the boisterous singalong to “Wavin' Flag.” But then came Shakira, in an ill-advised Roberto Cavalli outfit that looked like a costume from “The Lion King.”

Despite her fashion misstep, the Colombian powerhouse made a case for herself with a set that focused on the heavy beats in her own music -- not just “Waka Waka” but also the samba-flavored “Hips Don't Lie” and the more contemporary electro beats of “She Wolf.”

Shakira's career is a global phenomenon, as is soccer itself. Bilingual and truly cosmopolitan, she represents the audience who'll be cheering on this month's champions as well as any pop star could. Thursday, her answer to those who've criticized her song was a visual as well as a musical one: She filled the stage with African dancers, singers and musicians, who almost overshadowed her as she performed the song. It was just a symbolic gesture, but a strong one in this evening-long review of pop music's journey from Africa to every corner of the earth, and back.

-- Ann Powers

Photo: Shakira at the FIFA World Cup kick-off concert in Johannesburg, South Africa. Credit: Jewel Samad/AFP/Getty Images.