The writing of football anthems often occupies a unique genre that often stands on its own. The artist has to employ a delicate balance of patriotic spirit and jovial sportsmanship that surrounds the event. A FIFA World Cup championship theme song serves as a sports national anthem that is meant to propel all competing teams to glory. It must make you believe that it is possible to win the World Cup and emerge the victor at the end of the tournament (Nauright &Parrish, 2012, p.152) .Additionally the song also acts a warm-up to the main event while acting as a souvenir reminder for particular editions of the World Cup. Additionally, exceptional world coverage to the musicians involved in writing the song is also a perk. Such was the case when Robert Kelly, popularly known as R. Kelly, got the once in a lifetime opportunity to prepare a FIFA World Cup theme song.
As a seasoned artist, R. Kelly, rose to the occasions and wrote “Sign Of A Victory”. I remember fondly watching the 2010 FIFA World Cup opening ceremony where the smooth crooner wowed a mammoth crowd in Johannesburg with the song. For those who had earlier thought that the “Waka Waka” championship anthem by Colombian singer Shakira had taken the cake, R. Kelly’s take on what victory means brings a whole new perspective to anthem writing. The music video was shot in the South African Township of Soweto and also documents R. Kelly’s journey to Africa while featuring the Soweto Spiritual Singers. It also important to note that R. Kelly had to overcome his fear of flying and travelled all the way to Johannesburg to perform this inspirational song during the 2010 FIFA World Cup (Kelly &Ritz, 2012, p.163).
In this video, R. Kelly was definitely in full “I Believe I Can Fly” mode. The song is purely of spiritual bombast, starting off with R. Kelly on the roof of a skyscraper. A strategic location such as this seems to indicate that Kelly is facing his fear of heights and flying to inspire others to face their fears. Facing ones fears is the surest way to reach your goals in life and the FIFA World Cup is all about victory through goals. While on the rooftop (0: 32), R. Kelly is simply dressed in a pair of jeans and a red-and-white striped shirt, a choice of dressing that is uncommon for an artist of his stature. His choice of dressing seems to indicate that there is more to life than the glitz and glamour that people are accustomed to seeing in mainstream Pop-Culture.
The song takes an inspirational tone at the beginning, with the Soweto Spiritual Singers offering a repetitive A cappella background that is well harmonized. Distinct ululations, a common feature during African celebrations, followed by images of happy teenagers playing soccer in the middle of a tarmac road in a South African township, elderly women on their way to work and a school girl in uniform appear during the first verse. The people in the first part of this video all seem to come from the lower strata of South Africa, a country that had long been plagued with historical injustices (Goldberg and Jordan, 2016, p.54). The inequality that seems to have put these people in their present fiscal position is a result of the Boer regime’s apartheid policy that institutionalized segregation on the basis of skin color for nearly 100 years (Aminzade, 2015).
Kelly does a good job at being an ambassador of hope for a brighter future and that victory will be in to if only they believed in themselves. Hope is vital for the disadvantaged members of the society (Glen and Kodell, 2015). The first verse matches quite well with the images that are on display
“..I can see the colors of the rainbow
I can feel the sun on my face
I see the light at the end of the tunnel
And I can feel heaven in its place
And that’s the sign of a victory…”
An image of the Drankensberg Mountain range (taken from a moving car)serves as a reminder that the with hope and hard work, one can soar high, as high as this 3,482m mountain range and even way beyond it. The theme of hope is further reinforced by a mural of Nelson Mandela’s 90th Birthday in 2008 at the 0:26 mark of the video. Mandela hoped to one day see a South Africa that was all inclusive and derived its strength from diversity (Gibbs, 2014). It is his hope that made South Africa the rainbow nation that it is; an embodiment of peaceful co-existence.
The song features a catchy chorus that revolves around the phrase “That’s the sound of a victory,” with the Soweto Spiritual Singers providing an ad lib background that is sound in unison by singers of all the four voice registers. The distinct bass voice can be heard singing in its lower register, only an octave lower but in the same key. The second verse features images of R. Kelly, an African American, looking through the window of the airplane (1: 16) and in a way, a homecoming of some sort. Images of R. Kelly being warmly welcomed on arrival at the airport are timely as he sings about feeling the “spirit of the nation”. Such a welcome is moving, especially for an African American born in the American continent as a result of his ancestors being stolen from Africa during the Atlantic slave trade.
Kelly can then be seen on top of a building spreading his “wings” (1:14), sun on his face while at the same time expressing what seems to be a homage to Nelson Mandela. While meeting his loyal South African fans Kelly sings about their journey and how they fought with all their might for equality (1:47). The bridge is perhaps the highlight of the whole song. Kelly can be seen dressed casually in a blue Adidas track suit, with the Soweto Spiritual Singers standing in two rows behind him on a dusty football pitch. The images of Kelly inside an empty grand stadium appear after this scene (2 :21) perhaps to signify that dreams, whichever they may be, are always valid. Kelly sings the bridge in a loud and powerful tone before modulating to a new key (2:36). A second modulation occurs at the 3:30, as the energy and gusto of the song increases to a new high. Images of Kelly on a show performing and meeting loyal fans fill this last bit of the song. Kelly acts as a soloist, with the Soweto Spiritual Singers accompany him in the abbandonatamente style, bringing the song to an upbeat ending.