The first time I saw the music video for Shakira’s World Cup 2010 song, I grew teary without even really knowing why. I went on to use it in many of my ESL classes, usually playing it during our end-of-term class party, where people from Asia, Africa and Latin America were bound together in their love for the song (and soccer and beautiful women shaking what the good Lord gave them). We ate sambusas and cake and lukewarm orange soda, and we celebrated our small victories of grammar and friendship, all while Shakira danced in the background.
I am the student now, taking a Somali language class in my new city. I hear the song in the hallways of the elementary school where my little community education class meets. The janitors have the same rotation of songs every week–mostly latin pop songs and love ballads. When Shakira comes on, everyone in my class gets silent. My teacher, a young Somali man, talks wistfully about football, which turns into conversations about politics and Africa in general. I am reminded of how important all these things are, how identity is a fragile thing, especially in our fractured world.
The song still makes me cry, every time I hear it (and especially if I watch the video). I can’t really explain it. The shots of soccer victories and defeats, the people dancing from every tribe and nation, the repeated refrain “this time for Africa” being hailed as a joyous, prophetic truth. It’s an infectious song, celebrating a country who more often than not gets nothing but bad press in my world: a place of orphans and AIDS and crisis and corruption. A place where we send teams of people for weeks at a time, a place in constant need of outside saviors, mysterious and unfathomable, mired in troubles.
But this is only a part of the story. In the singing and dancing of the video I find so much articulated that I see every day: the men in the Somali coffee shops, huddled around the TVs, catching the latest soccer game. My Sudanese brother-in-law, reading the news in Arabic every day, his watchful eye ever on the politics of Africa. The women who blast tinny African music from their cell phones as they cook fish and rice and bread for me, the Somali teenager who knows more about the Kenyan president than I will ever hope to. I see it, every day, in my city of immigrants, a people in a sort of exile I can never imagine. Every day, millions around the world, are thinking the same thought to themselves: when will it be time for Africa?
Shakira, unlikely war photographer. You captured what so many of us already believe, even if we never knew how to say. Of course it’s time for Africa. It always was. The thought is so joyous and heartbreaking, the struggles so sharp and the continent so grand, I can’t help but join in.
For like all my friends, I believe it: this time for Africa.