Freshlyground in Dubai

Shakira's Waka Waka collaborators share their story so far

You may have seen Freshlyground when they performed at Abu Dhabi’s Sunset Music Festival last year. If you didn’t, you’ll probably have heard their biggest track, Waka Waka (This Time for Africa), which they recorded with Shakira for the 2010 World Cup. On Friday January 27, you’ll have the chance to see them live in Dubai, when they play at McGettigan’s JLT.

Freshlyground, for the uninitiated, are one of South Africa’s biggest bands. A seven-piece Afropop outfit made up of musicians from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, they’ve been together since 2002 and have released six studio albums.

A testament to their talent, in 2004, just one year after their debut album, Jika Jika, was released, they performed for the South African president Thabo Mbeki. They went on to win the Best African Act award at the MTV Europe Music Award in 2006, becoming the first South African band to do so.

But the proudest moment, for drummer Peter Cohen, at least, was when they took to the stage at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in 2009 to play at a concert for Nelson Mandela’s 91st birthday, alongside Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin.

However, their most enduring legacy for listeners is that song. “The original chorus is from a band in Cameroon called Golden Sounds. I think Shakira was influenced by a Colombian band that covered it,” Cohen tells Time Out. “We wrote the bridge in New York in 2010, while mixing Radio Africa [their fourth album]. The producer of Waka Waka stumbled in on us while we were working in the same building and asked if we could write a bridge for him.”

And the rest is history. The song went on to become one of the biggest-selling singles of all time, with more than 12 million copies sold and more than a billion views on YouTube. And they performed it at that year’s World Cup final. “It was a truly amazing experience, especially since we were in our own country,” Cohen says.

The band have also played some smaller – and quite unusual – gigs. “We once played for 14 Russians in the middle of the bush in Botswana,” Cohen reveals.

With seven people making up the group, playing everything from the violin to the harmonica, songwriting and music-writing duties are shared. “We’re a family,” Cohen says. “It’s great because we can break up into small groups if it starts getting pressurised on a personal level.”

Their seventh album is coming very soon, too, Cohen says. “We’re working on it at the moment with a Swedish producer. I have a good feeling about it. We’re all totally excited about it.”

While waiting for it, there’s the McGettigan’s show to get excited about. Don’t miss out.
Dhs100. Fri Jan 27, doors open 7.30pm, show starts 9.30pm. The Baggot, McGettigan’s JLT, Bonnington Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Cluster J (04 378 0800).

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