Ola Ola – A Song for a Roiling World

The official tournament song is an oddly uncelebrated art form that is utopic in theory if usually risible in practice. Back in the days when the pop single was one of the most lucrative artefacts known to late capitalism, these folksy bagatelles must have made simple commercial sense as a way of drawing in extra revenue to a not-yet heinously wealthy sport. Before replica shirts, before sponsorship even (I learn to my astonishment that the first official World Cup song was released to coincide with Chile 1962 – that is, before the Beatles), tournament songs were both a bit of a joke and a primitive form of merchandise that made a few extra quid for the organisers. Before consumerism’s viral infiltration of leisure and lifestyle, there was the simple memento, the novelty keepsake, the guileless souvenir.

Nowadays, the function of the tournament song is subtler. No doubt they still generate considerable revenue, but in the neoliberal period – post-Band Aid and ‘We Are the World’ – World Cup anthems have also become central to the quasi-ethical propaganda campaigns of the globalised economy.

Hence, titles like ‘Let’s Get Together Now’, and eclectically orientalist collaborations across borders and genres (Toni Braxton and Il Divo, R-Kelly and the Soweto Singers, Jean Michel Jarre and Tetsuya Komuro). Increasingly, these (probably intentionally) forgettable songs hover in the background of tournament PR campaigns, faintly hinting at the notion that the World Cup has the potential to be an important internationalist statement, dangling the prospect of global solidarity while reducing that concept to an enervated marketing slogan with a half-life of four weeks.

To an extent, ‘We Are One (Ola Ola)’, official song for Brazil 2014, slots relatively easily into this established tradition of watered-down Fukuyaman idealism. But there are a handful of things that make it a bit more interesting than that. For starters, like much recent pop music, the melody is pleadingly melancholic and cautiously hopeful – quite a contrast from the airy triumphalism of nineties and noughties ballads.

The vigorously strummed guitar chords are mostly in the minor key and never quite resolve. The tempo is fast. The segues between singers and styles are abrupt, bewildering, and at times (J-Lo’s cameo, Claudia Liette’s interlude from 2:38) kind of brilliant.

Okay, the title is parodic and the lyrics never manage to be anything other than pitiful. But in its best moments ‘We Are One’ conveys a sense of something bubbling under the surface, of incipient voices clashing against each other in a crowded room underground, of multiple ideas fizzing and just failing to catch alight. This is the sound of a roiling, incongruous energy that hasn’t quite found its outlet yet – the urgent, nascent sound, in fact, of the world in 2014.

Posted by Alex Niven

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