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The African song that inspired Shakira's Waka Waka is back, thanks to Instagram Reels

Shaurya Thapa
Shaurya ThapaSep 06, 2022 | 09:00

The African song that inspired Shakira's Waka Waka is back, thanks to Instagram Reels

Shakira's chorus in Waka Waka is taken verbatim from Zangalewa by Golden Sounds, a Cameroonian group that performed in the 80s and 90s (photo-DailyO)

While several songs have been butchered with unnecessary mashups or remixes on Insta Reels (and TikTok overseas), it has also been a gateway for discovering some underrated classic music. A recent example is Zamina mina (Zangaléwa), a 1986 hit by the Cameroonian group Golden Sounds. 

Mainstream listeners would have heard the song indirectly as Shakira’s chorus for Waka Waka (It’s Time For Africa) is taken entirely from it. The Colombian singer’s reworked version served as the official song of the 2010 FIFA World Cup that took place in South Africa. However, neither Shakira’s record label nor FIFA initially credited or compensated the Cameroonian artists for using their lyrics and composition. 

A decade later, the original is unexpectedly trending on Reels and TikTok these days, mostly being used on dog videos, football moments, or just bizarrely funny memes.

 

Who recorded the original? The song was written and performed by a band from Cameroon that was originally named Golden Sounds (who later rechristened themselves to Zangaléwa after the song’s immense popularity). The composition of the members is pretty amusing as they all were serving in the Cameroonian presidential guard when they formed the outfit in 1984. 

The members had previous military experience as they served in the Cameroonian army during World War II back when France had been ruling over the African nation. 

Golden Sounds (later Zangalewa) was started by Presidential Guards of Cameroon even though civilian members joined later (photo- Last FM)
Golden Sounds (later Zangalewa) was started by Presidential Guards of Cameroon even though civilian members joined later (photo- Last FM)

After they birthed their musical project, Golden Sounds members put up a comedic show whenever they performed. They often dressed up in military costumes and stuffed clothes and pillows down their bottoms and over their stomachs. Why so?

Well, the joke lies in the fact that the army men would often travel in trains that would give them swollen butts while the bloated stomachs was just by eating too much state-sponsored food. 

Their videos can still be found in the hidden corners of YouTube albeit with pixelated video quality. While the whereabouts of other members are unknown, the band’s frontman Jean Paul ze Bella continued serving in the Presidential Guard, a post that he resigned from in 2002 after 30 years of service. 

Composition and meaning of the track: An instantly upbeat track with the original version clocking at 11 minutes, Zangaléwa falls in the Cameroonian urban music genre known as makossa. The genre traces its origins from funk, disco, and even Christian hymns and was a big hit in Cameroon in the 1980s. Songs like Zangaléwa were destined to be dance hits. After all, the very word ‘makossa’ translates to ‘dance’ in the Douala language of Cameroon. 

The Doula language constitutes most of Zangaléwa’s lyrics along with some elements of French, Jamaican patois, and West African English dialects that are referred to as pidgin English. 

The chorus, which was retained in Waka Waka can be roughly translated as follows: 

(Zamina mina or Tsaminamina) = Come.
Waka waka = Do it do it (as in perform a task)
Tsaminamina zangalewa = where do you come from?.

The outro in both tracks include the words Wana (it is mine) and Zambo (wait). 

There are multiple interpretations on what the track could’ve meant. Even though it sounds cheery on the surface, one school of thought suggests that the lyrics delve into the solitude and struggles of soldiers who served in the World War II (in the same vein as Bob Marley’s reggae hit Buffalo Soldier that dealt with the black US cavalry regiments that fought in the American Indian Wars). 

However, the video finds the members dressed up like European soldiers in Africa, complete with pith elements and fluffy white mustaches. This has prompted some music critics to conclude that the song is a satire on the African soldiers who benefited from their European masters while their own people faced oppression. 

Single cover for Zangalewa by Golden Sounds (photo- Emile Kojidie blog)
Single cover for Zangalewa by Golden Sounds (photo- Emile Kojidie blog)

It is unclear what the band’s intentions were as the members had themselves served in the colonial Cameroonian army. But what is clear is that the song has been subverted in the present day as the song is regularly played in independent Cameroon’s military and police parades. The locals have reclaimed Zangaléwa as an anthem of celebration. 

How the song travelled to Colombia: Apart from Cameroon, Zangaléwa has become a popular hit even in Colombia. As DJs in South America grew more fond of African songs and increasingly remixed them in the 90s, Zangaléwa was played on repeat by the Colombian youth.

Out here, the song was locally known as The Military. Did Shakira come across this song at this time? Guess we’ll never know. 

It took some time for Golden Sounds to be credited for Waka Waka: In an Associated Press video from 2010, Shakira can be seen telling journalists how the song’s first verse and pre-chorus “came to her” during a walk in an Uruguayan farm. However, she didn’t mention once the inspiration behind the chorus. 

A 2013 piece from the Cameroon-based literary magazine Bakwa details how intellectual property from African nations have been blatantly copied without due credit to the original artists. The article adds Zangaléwa as a prominent example with the writer mentioning how the Golden Sounds lead singer Ze Bella was informed about Waka Waka’s existence when a French acquaintance called him up. 

What followed was an online campaign by Cameroonians to tell the world that Waka Waka was more than just a Shakira song. 

In 2010, Ze Bella told Cameroon Tribune that while he was glad a global music icon had remixed their song, he was distressed with the fact that Sony Music hadn’t provided them adequate compensation. 

We are really powerless to travel to the United States to assert our rights. There are at least 30 groups that have remade Zangaléwa…
- Ze Bella to Cameroon Tribune (2010)

 

Before it could have turned into a dispute over intellectual property, the matter was settled out of court with the group telling the local press that negotiations were underway in 2010. Their manager Didier Edo however added that negotiating with Shakira’s manager and Sony was a Herculean task in itself. 

FIFA finally came out with the statement, “The song was written by Shakira, the world-famous singer from Latin America…The chorus is similar to that of a popular Cameroon song made famous by Golden Voices in particular”.

Zangaléwa isn’t the only Cameroonian hit to influence global pop. From James Brown to Michael Jackson to Timbaland and Missy Elliott, all of these artists have borrowed from Cameroonian singers who have often gone unrecognised in the global music scene.

 

Just take Jackson’s Thriller single Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin as a case in point. The song is perhaps best known for its outro that includes the refrain “Ma-mako, ma-ma-ssa, mako-makossa” (which was sampled later by Rihanna in Please Don’t Stop The Music). While many might think of it as gibberish scatting, this line is actually an extension of the word makossa and was originally taken from Soul Makossa, a song recorded by Cameroonian artist Manu (regarded as the King of Makossa by local listeners). 

What happened with Golden Sounds and Manu might have happened to several artists from Africa and other continents, particularly the ones with Third World countries (in India, the most recent example is that of Badshah not giving credit to Boroloker biti lo by Ratan Kahar for using Bengali lyrics in Genda Phool). However, with the sheer randomness of Instagram and TikTok algorithms, maybe these artists would get their long-deserved credit. 

Last updated: September 06, 2022 | 09:00
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