Soweto concert on World Cup eve draws fans

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by Donna Bryson
Associated Press Writer

JOHANNESBURG (AP)—The world came to Soweto on June 10 for a celebration of football, music and unity on the eve of Africa’s first World Cup, with a concert featuring international headliners Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys.

Warm-up acts played for hours before the internationally televised portion of the concert began at 8 p.m. with a frenzy of flag waving, drumming and African-inspired dancing.

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INTERNATIONAL HEADLINERS—Black Eyed Pea’s singer Fergie, left, Will.I.Am, and Apl.d.Ap, 2nd right, smile at the Soccer City stadium in Johannesburg, South Africa, June 9.

Veteran South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela took the stage with “Grazin’ in the Grass” a No. 1 international hit in 1968. He was quickly joined by a new South African star, Lira, who covered the late Miriam Makeba’s “Pata Pata,” another worldwide hit that originated in South Africa.

The Black Eyed Peas were next with a slick medley of their hits. Then it was back to Africa, with the blind duo Amadou & Mariam of Mali and their sinuous, driving sound.

About a third of the seats at Soweto’s 40,000-seat Orlando stadium were blocked off for the stage and backstage. Most of what was left was filled, as was a dance floor on the pitch.

Organizers called the concert and the first game triumphs after years of questions about whether a world class event could be staged in a nation saddled with poverty and crime and still riven by the legacy of apartheid.

“This is a showcase,” concertgoer Nana Masithela said as she entered Orlando last Thursday. “We are showcasing ourselves, to say, ‘Blacks can do it!”

Sepp Blatter, head of world football governing body FIFA, had pushed to bring the World Cup to Africa. He made a brief appearance during the concert to speak about 1GOAL, a campaign to improve education in impoverished countries. South African President Jacob Zuma, who took the stage with Blatter, thanked South Africans for the welcome they have given World Cup fans, and called on them “to show the warmness for the whole duration of the tournament.”

South Africans of all races filled Orlando, parading in the yellow and green of their national team, or draping themselves in their flag. Football fans from other countries also sported their colors.

Speaking before the concert, cast members celebrated sports and arts as unifying forces.

“Music is a universal language,” said American John Legend, who performed a duet during the concert with Angelique Kidjo of Benin. “This competition, football, is a universal language.”

Concertgoer Tumi Mohafa agreed, saying the mix of races in the renovated stadium in an area where blacks once were confined is a sign of how far South Africa has come from apartheid, which ended in 1994.

Mohafa says: “We’re a rainbow nation.”

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