In this comic strip conversation between Michael Caesar and Huey Freeman, Aaron McGruder captures the way a great number of us Philadelphians might think about soccer—that is if we are inclined to think about it at all. When asked in 2009 to vote on the name of the local franchise of Major League Soccer, local fans fittingly chose the name "The Philadelphia Union". Officially, the name is a nod to the revolutionary (if not quite in the Boondocksian sense) union of colonies centered in Philadelphia against a monarchical empire seated in London. Unofficially, it's hard not to get the sense that the name embodies just a little bit of a tip of the ball cap to that indomitable urge to resist our underdog station so deeply ingrained in the long arc of the history of Philadelphia's working people.
For those of us who are not already Sons of Ben, Association Football inevitably must act as a cipher for a shared but often subconscious global struggle against alienation. Indeed, politicizing sports and its symbols is in our blood. Even our beloved Iggles, who battle not only "America's Team" but also that unmentionable colossus to the north, take their name from a popular social democratic intervention into the market we've since canonized in the post-Depression years.
Despite an emergent soccer culture down these shores, most of us (like Huey), under the veil of ignorance of our provincial sporting exceptionalism, must inscribe symbolic meaning onto what our Brazilian peers call o jogo bonito. Make no mistake, Dave Zirin is right: such "projection is perilous". Though one thing is clear, Caesar was already wrong about futbol's freedom from "over-commercialization" in 2000 and doubly wrong in 2014. Despite any global solidarity one might feel with the anti-neoliberal panic on the streets of Brazil, it appears there already is a Copa. If it shall be, why not pick something for which we can unapologetically root?
Let that thing be song.
As a music librarian, I'm inclined to agree with the readers of the Guardian (UK): Musically, the 2014 World Cup has already produced an unambiguous champion, Stromae. Was it even a fair fight? The official song from Pitbull, J-Lo, and Claudia Leitte promises a world of unity in the drama of the circus if not in access to the concomitant bread.
Stromae, on the other hand, appears to be the organic maestro of a more unsettling unifier: malaise. Our department has selected for our collection, singles from this Belgian phenomenon for awhile now and so we're quite excited for the arrival of his second full length. When we learned that he wanted to take on the challenge of composing a "National Anthem" not for the Kingdom of Belgium but rather for the Red Devil Nation, we were thrilled. For a taste of why, you must check out the seven brief chapters of his 28th lesson on his process:
If the minor key bro-stepping club timbre of the keyboard line in Ta Fete doesn't seem like it's for you, I'd still like you to pause and consider how much deeper the bass might drop. It's easy to imagine young Paul Van Haver as someone who "while all the other guys were out playin' with the football" might be at home banging on a synth. With that particular ball on the pitch, is it fair for us to imagine Stromae as a nerdy kin of the piano picking protagonist in that of Randy Edelman/Richard Carpenter song albeit in an updated EDM/Euro-/Afro-/Pop idiom? Or would it be more appropriate to imagine him as others have, as a new Jacques Brel jilted by post-modernity rather than by a mistress?
At this point, the struggle between the jocks and the nerds is moot. After all, on the electronic frontier of the internet, don't most youth not enthralled by normcore aspire to a flawless dexterity like that which Stromae displays on the Red Devil's turf? Then again, on the streets and in the favelas, isn't it the jocks of global finance that continue to bully us all into the cynical despair at the idea that the game might be rigged beyond all hope? To me, that's what makes Stromae's hit from 2010 so compelling:
He calls it "Suicide Dance" and could there be a better realist metaphor for our species' aimless pub crawl? I think not. In this, the probable fourth quarter of the industrial age, how do we peel back the layers of irony in our festival of doom that Stromae collaborator Maitre Gims so succinctly ties together in what could also serve as a darkhorse alternative to the World Cup's official anthem? One line says it all—"Allez vous faire foutre, j'ai un match de foot":
The world might very well need Belgium to bathe in glory during these matches de foot. Nurturing the seeds of Belgitude is at stake. New Belgians find themselves optimistic for the opportunity to rewrite in the full light of day the older "hollow" identity that hides in the shadow of Belgium's shameful colonial past. They look over their bowls of moules frites past their glasses of gueuze and see some kind of cosmopolitan, inclusive, wealthy, socially democratic future where the comic impossibility of the nation-state is something we can all dance to.
Readers wishing to improve their language skills so as to better yell at refs or to parse francophone pop and hip hop, should give our database Mango Languages a whirl.
Listeners wishing to dig deeper into the virtual crates of world music, would do well to get familiar with our database Contemporary World Music. After logging in with your library card and PIN, you'll be able to enjoy such gems as this album from Tabu Ley Rochereau and L'Orchestre Afrisa International:
Stromae, whose father perished in the Rwandan Genocide, has made good use of the guitar sounds of Soukous or Congolese Rumba. A sound you can hear for yourself by searching the terms once logged in to the database. The video for Papaoutai is a heartbreaking treat unto itself:
AP Images is an excellent source for primary documents to illustrate term papers or editorial content such as this. You too can investigate with your library card and PIN. Captions for the images on the right can be found below:
[Caption 1] A woman protests with signs pasted on her face that read "FIFA Go Home" and "Will not have a Cup" during a march against the World Cup 2014 at the Copacabana beach, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Protesters are demanding better public services and protesting the money spent on the soccer tournament. (AP Photo/Leonardo Wen)
[Caption 2] In this image taken Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013 Belgian music artist Stromae performs with his costume in the colours of the Belgian tricolour, during a World Cup Group A qualifying soccer match between Belgium and Wales, at the King Baudouin stadium in Brussels. Walk through Belgium and feel that giddy sense of unity, the national football team is going to the World Cup again. Follow the election campaign though, and the division between Dutch- and French-speakers seems even worse than four years ago when it took a record 541 days to form a government uniting the bickering sides. (AP Photo/Yves Logghe)
[Caption 3] A protestor holds a banner that reads in Portuguese; "There is not going to be a World Cup!," during a demonstration demanding better public services and against the World Cup costs, at a subway station being used to take people to the Itaquerao stadium, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Thursday, June 12, 2014. Police clashed with anti-World Cup protesters who were trying to block a road near the main highway leading to the Itaquerao that hosts the tournament's opening match. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)