Freshlyground: From World Cup Songs To 'Radio Africa'

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hide captionRadio Africa highlights Freshlyground's African influences, from Mozambique to Cameroon.

Courtesy of the artist
Freshlyground

Radio Africa highlights Freshlyground's African influences, from Mozambique to Cameroon.

Courtesy of the artist

The South African band Freshlyground recently collaborated with Shakira for "Waka Waka," the official song of the 2010 World Cup. The band's involvement in the World Cup was serendipitous, vocalist and violist Kyla-Rose Smith tells Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon. The band was in New York working on its latest album, Radio Africa, while "Waka Waka" was taking shape in a studio one floor below. John Hill, the track's producer, needed an African element to add to the song.

"He heard we were around; he heard we were a band from South Africa," Smith says. "He asked us to try out some ideas — he recorded it, took it away and the next thing we knew, it was the official World Cup song."

In "Waka Waka," the band sings in a language called Xhosa, but lead vocalist Zolani Mahola says the song title has various meanings.

"It's like a challenge," Mahola says. "It's like a marching-band song challenge, a 'we'll show you' kind of thing. I spoke to these Congolese guys, and [they] said that 'Waka Waka' means a flame that's getting higher and higher."

Radio Africa is Freshlyground's fourth album. The band left the team of producers it had worked with for its last two albums, and instead chose Fabrice Dupont. Smith says Freshlyground wanted a change.

"I think that this album, more than any of our other albums, highlights our African influences and captured a rawness of sound within the band," she says.

Songs from Radio Africa draw influences from many parts of the continent. "Moto" borrows its chorus from a song the band's guitarist heard during his childhood in Mozambique.

"It's kind of like a warning song, in times of war," Mahola says. "Like engines firing. What we did is put that together with a verse [about] a love affair that was shipwrecked."

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