Issa goal, and The Anatomy of Theme Music.
Friday, June 22nd, 2018, a few minutes after 5.pm. The second half of the World Cup match between Nigeria and Iceland has just started. Nigeria desperately needs a lifeline, but judging by the first half, there’s no hope. Zero shots on target, zero goals.
Some minutes later, Victor Moses drives the ball down the right flank, spots a run by Ahmed Musa, and crosses the ball. There’s dead silence in the normally rowdy room where I’m watching the match. Pupils dilate in anticipation of what could be Nigeria’s first goal in the world cup. Musa’s first touch is sublime; he controls the ball upwards, dribbling the incoming defender and poising himself to take a shot simultaneously. Shot taken. Blinder! Goal.
Venomous shouts erupt around the room. It is an orchestra of sorts - deep baritone bass mixed with high-pitched screams that would pass for a potpourri of tenor and soprano. But that’s fine, it’s a celebration.
“ISSA GOAL ISSA GOAL – MUSA ISSA GOAL. NIGERIA ISSA GOAL”
And on and on. Some minutes later, Ahmed Musa scores a second goal and this one is even more glorious. We go through the motions again.
Match over, 2 - 0. Nigeria wins.
The whole area is in a celebratory mood. Boys take off their shirts, shouting and singing, hysterical ladies loiter around, excited at the excitement.
Old, young, male, female; everyone seems to be in high spirits, beaming to the high heavens with diverse types of smiles on, and the occasional shouts of “ISSA GOAL, ISSA GOAL”, the groovy hook from the song, “Issa goal” by Naira Marley ft Olamide and Lil Kesh. With its sporty vibe and simplistic lyrics, the song has become the unofficial song of the Nigerian Super Eagles. And rightly so, too.
Everyone was playing this song, but not the official Super Eagles World Cup song. Why?
“Musa issa goal, Super Eagles is a goal…”
On June 3, 2008, a major milestone in American history was reached. Barack Obama, an African American senator, clinched the Democratic National Congress nomination to run for the position of the president of the United States of America, thereby becoming the first African American with a viable chance of becoming the president of the US.
While the full realisation of this was reaching the world, something significant was also happening in the Hip Hop sphere. Two rap artists, Young Jeezy and Nas, who had been embroiled in a beef for about two years decided to end their feud. The result of this resolution was a collaborative effort on a song to celebrate Obama’s nomination. The song, “My President”, which was later released on September 2, would turn out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, because Obama won the presidential election two months later.
According to Jeezy’s annotation of the song on genius, when he received the beat, he noted that it was special. Usually, he would do most of his recordings in the evenings of the next day, but he was so inspired by the beat that he decided to pull an all-nighter, and by 2:08 am, as referenced in the outro of the song, he was done.
Upon release, the song automatically became a street anthem – a real life equivalent of a movie score. Its place in history was further cemented when Obama eventually won the elections. From the streets of Harlem, to neighbourhoods in Compton and the projects in St Louis, it was an entire wave. Kids singing;
“My president is black, My lambo’s blue
And I’ll be goddammed if my rims ain’t too”
Even in Nigeria, and all over Africa, we were singing along. In a sort of pinch-me-I-can’t-believe-it way, it was a constant reminder that a black man was the leader of the free world. From slavery, to segregation, to the civil rights movement, to the white house, the black man had indeed come a long way, and “My President” was just the right song for this present scene.
How a song birthed out of sheer coincidence and a flash of inspiration turned out to be a viral sensation that would reverberate through the years is still a mystery. If we’re being honest, the song is not an 8/10, it’s probably somewhere around a 5. The verses, including Nas’s, are average by a mile. I’m not even sure the beat was all that – though I’m speaking in retrospect now. And I’m not sure it was relevance either, because John Legend released a commemorative song, which he debuted at a DNC rally. That was supposed to be the official song, right? Why are unofficial songs stealing the spot?
To answer this question, we will revisit one of the popular human activities that constantly use theme music – The FIFA World Cup. World Cup themed songs started off in 1962, when a Chilean band named Los Ramblers penned down and performed a song titled “El Rock Del Mundial”, in support of the Chilean national team. The song was an instant hit and it became an unofficial theme song for that edition of the World Cup.
Four years later, at the 1966 world cup hosted by England, a Scottish native wrote a song titled “World Cup Willie” as a tribute to Willie, the lion who served as a mascot for the tournament. It became an instant hit and went on to be tagged the unofficial tournament song.
Between 1974 and 1978, the idea became institutionalised and a concerted effort was made to record songs, specifically for the world cup. Fast-forward, thirty-two years later, Shakira recorded “Waka Waka” (This time for Africa), which went on to become the most commercially successful World Cup song ever.
But beneath the glamour, star power and allure of the official song, a street anthem was gently and gradually making its way into the minds of people all around the world;
“When I get older, I will be stronger
They'll call me freedom, just like a waving flag”
- K’naan (wavin' flag)
Right now, I’m willing to bet that if you ask a group of say, ten people for the song they remember from that world cup, probably about six or seven will tell you it was “Wavin’ Flag”.
While “Waka Waka” had a joyful, exciting, colourful, and exuberant, in other words – happy feel to it, “Wavin’ Flag” had a certain multiplicity of emotions. “Waka Waka” is stuff you’d listen to if you were in a good mood or looking to have fun. “Wavin’ Flag” however, is bleak, poignant and emotionally riveting. The sad outlook notwithstanding; to the person in an ecstatic mood, it could be a celebratory song; to one looking to get inspired, it is moving; and to one who is sad, it is an acknowledgment of gloom, with a tint of a hopeful eventuality. It captures a range of emotions, and anyone listening to it for whatever reason might find themselves in it.
In the process of creating music, inspiration often rings further than deliberateness. I know this because I have been involved in different forms of music creating processes for a few years.
Sometimes, artistes just sit in the studio, looking to get inspired by a sound, song, situation, circumstance, anything really, before they start creating. Some of the most beautiful songs come from this flash of inspiration. That’s why you see artistes say stuff like, “we were in the studio, just chilling and the producer plays this beat xyz, and the first thing that came to mind was abc, and we started working on it immediately.” That flash of inspiration, in my opinion, makes songs honest. Not honest in the sense of being factually truthful, but in the sense that it is true to the artist’s deepest feelings or person. It is like something inside the artist – the real artist, I think – created it. And people can feel that too.
This is the same process that “My President” came out of. Jeezy heard a piece of news that inspired him. Coincidentally, his producer sent an amazing beat to him and poof! Magic happened. Same with K’naan. His homeland, Somalia, was war-torn and ravaged and he needed to channel his feelings of despondency, hopelessness and hope for a better future into his art. He was inspired by something, and the result was “Wavin' Flag”. This is the reason for the multiplicity of emotion. It is because you’re hearing the artist’s pure, unadulterated soul, transmitted by sounds, beats and vocals – and human feelings are almost never single. This is also why, apart from using the song as an unofficial World Cup theme song, it was also used – through a deeply emotional collaborative effort from A-list artistes, worldwide – to raise awareness and money for the Haiti earthquake victims. That’s the multiplicity of emotions I’m talking about.
And of course, same with “issa goal”. According to an interview with Fader, Naira Marley, when asked about how he conceived the song, said, “There was a sound in it [The beat] that just reminded me of football and the World Cup.” Flash inspiration.
“Da-da-ding, da-da-ding…” he continued, “it just made me think of football and goals so that’s how ‘Issa Goal’ came up.”
That’s why the song went viral very quick, and why people adopted it as a street anthem for the World Cup, regardless of the official song. The beat, the mood, and more importantly, the slang “issa goal” resonated with anyone that was remotely interested in the competition.
This, as opposed to going to the studio, deliberately, to make a record that you were paid to create, is a much better proposition. Not because all songs made this way are bad, or inferior – in fact, certain songs made like this, e.g. Glory (John Legend + Common), are masterpieces and unequalled in their own right – but because across board, they resonate with more people, and they’re probably cheaper (K’naan was paid $150k plus performance fees and a percentage of the royalties on the World Cup mix, according to Hiphopdx. Though the information isn’t public, I doubt that Shakira would take that low).
Instead of making star studded appearances on theme songs, mega brands could maybe pick songs that work better from the catalogue of the numerous artistes worldwide and use them, not because the deliberate songs are bad, but maybe, just maybe because the flash inspiration ones are marginally better, probably cheaper, too.
By Smish for Urban Central follow him on Twitter @Smish001
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