The Arena Pernambuco in Recife is about to host its final match of this World Cup. On the giant screen, American rapper Pitbull, pouting on a beach in Miami, which is supposed to pass off as Rio de Janeiro, is crooning, ‘We Are One (Ole Ola)’.
Behind the stands, the steward in charge of maintaining peace at the beer-stands, calls for calm. Then she has everyone in splits by saying this: “The bald guy has just started to sing. There’s still plenty of time to go.” There sure is, for somewhere in the backdrop, Jennifer Lopez and Claudia Leitte have joined ‘the bald guy’ in his chorus of ‘Ole Ole Ole Ola’.
Pitbull, though, never did manage to have Brazil at ‘ola’.
“Has there been a more random World Cup song than this one?” asks Leoninho, a local ticket-holder at the game. “I can understand English thanks to my time spent in London. And even I can’t understand what that man is rapping. Imagine what the Brasileiro feels.” Oblivion, then, is bliss in this case. Or let’s put it this way, better lyrics have been penned for World Cup songs in the past.
“When the going gets tough the tough get going; One love, one life, one world, one fight, whole world, one night, one place,” chants Pitbull in stanza three, aptly described by one critic as ‘a big pile of cliches’. But Junior Francisco, a Samba artist in Rio de Janeiro, is far less forgiving.
“They give cliches a bad name,” he says. “Take the girls in the video pretending to pass off as Samba dancers for example. They’re shaking their stomachs, not their hips. That’s belly-dancing, not Samba-dancing. They’re gringos, not Brasileiros.”
The most common criticism by the Brasileiro on the street is that the song is generic in nature and that neither the music nor the words resonate with the local culture. Yes, one of the three artistes, Leitte, is Brazilian, but she too mouths what Francisco calls ‘utter nonsense’. “Não importa o resultado, vamos extravasar,” Leitte grooves when its her turn to shake her belly to the camera, which loosely translates as: “No matter the result, we’ll party.”
“Rubbish. If Brasil lose the party stops, simple as that. What we don’t have is something like the official song from the 2010 World Cup by K’naan. That gave you a sense of Africa. This gives you a sense of Miami,” adds Francisco.
Although it wasn’t the official song (Shakira’s Waka Waka was), K’naan’s meaningful number called Wavin’ Flag was about Somalia’s freedom struggle, which was then adapted for the World Cup by one of its main sponsors, Coca Cola.
Humming the tune with glee, Francisco sighs and says: “If only Coke came here to true Samba streets to find a true Brazilian artist, we would have lit up this World Cup in true Brasileiro style.”
They did. And it has lit up this World Cup in true Brasileiro style. Only, it wasn’t Coke but a beer brand called Skol. In the mid-80s, as Brazil’s military rule came to an end, an ad agency employed by Skol decided to ride the patriotic wave by coming up with the simplest of jingles. It consisted of just nine words and went like this.
Eu sou Brasileiro
Com muito orgulho
Com muito amor
When translated, the lyrics mean: “I am Brazilian, I say it with pride, I say it with love”. Repeated in a loop with a catchy tune, the simplicity of it all stormed a nation. Skol, of course, became the best selling brewery in the country, while the song still continues to echo about its every nook and corner — sung by the fan before, during and after he slurps a mouthful of the golden liquid.
At this World Cup, you hear it everywhere. Right through the course of Brazil’s games and even when they aren’t playing, like at the extremely popular and incredibly loud fan-fests.
At the Arena Pernambuco, Leoninho and a vast number of others are chanting it tirelessly to pep up the dull Costa Rica-Greece game. “You just cannot get bored of it. That’s what makes a song great. When you can’t get it out of your head,” says Leoninho.
He’s got a point. It’s hard to get ‘I am Brazilian’ out of a nation’s collective conscience mainly because its fun. Fun to chant, lip or simply stuff your eardrums with. Here, in the estadios or outside drinking holes or besides the fan-fests by the beachfronts, ‘I am Brazilian’ is a lot more than just the official song that never was. It’s the unofficial football anthem that always will be.