12.19.2011 | Global event, global marketing

The World Cup in South Africa is a year and half behind us, but among the hubbub and hullaballoo, one thing stood out from the rest: the event's anthem.

In this season of togetherness, no other song stands out as a more perfect example of our new global economy and how interconnected we are. In the melody, no doubt the feeling everyone shared as they were cheering for their teams was the same. But in the words, there are delightful differences—the translation process provides a window into each artist's culture, given their take on the original theme.

Some background: Somali-born Canadian artist K'naan originally wrote "Waving Flag" about his rough upbringing on the streets of Somalia, and the theme had been appropriated for the World Cup, adding the words "now wave your flag" to invite the listener into the celebration (the original song said "and then it goes back"). But to invite the world into the celebration, it needed to be translated into more languages.

Other languages use more syllables to communicate the same idea. So how did they get it across?

Original English (K'naan - Somalian-Canadian):
When I get older, I will be stronger, they'll call me freedom just like a waving flag/Now wave your flag

David Bisbal (Spanish):
Seremos grandes, seremos fuertes, sonos un pueblo, bandera de liberdad/Que viene y que va
Let's be big, let's be strong; we are one people, a banner of freedom that waves back and forth/back and forth

Féfé (Nigerian-French):
On est des soldats, sans armes au combat, ce soir la mission, c'est de chanter dans l'estade/chanter dans l'estade
We are soldiers, without arms in combat; tonight this is the mission: to sing in the stadium/sing in the stadium

Nancy Arjam (Egyptian Arabic):
Ta'rafla almak, hetla'eii helmak, oum meddi edak, sheg'aa ba'alamak da/ba'alamak da
I will teach you that you will reach your dreams, now give me your hand and let's cheer with this flag/with this flag …

The part after the slash is what gets repeated in the song for emphasis, so it's interesting to think how awkward some of those lyrics would be in English if we chose to sing them. But whatever these versions lack in the chorus, they make up for in the verses (which I might go into in a future post—for now, the Spanish chorus is most representative of that approach).

Even more revealing are the videos, which in the Spanish and Arabic versions show Coca-Cola's involvement in the sponsorship of the event—and melody. Coke's jingle makes an appearance as a soaring vocal anthem between verses. The product placement is most in-your-face in the Arabic version, which shows Nancy Arjam relaxing at the end to partake in the sponsor's beverage.

Contrast that, then, with the French version, where, unlike the English "Coca-Cola Celebration Mix," the anthem has been altered to avoid matching Coke's jingle, and the beverage is nowhere to be found among the scenes.

Which made me wonder: what would sporting events be like without product placements or ads? Would they be as exciting? Should they be?

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