One popular musical style that is hard to master is the sporting anthem. This is down to the fact that they are often created in adversity.
They involve the composition of the song, sourcing of several singers for its performance and shooting an accompanying music video all within a tight timeframe. If that's not enough, the song eventually needs to be approved by the event organisers to ensure it is in line with the brand. No wonder many stars avoid it like the plague, or the song comes off embarrassingly cringe-worthy, such as the 1994 football World Cup official anthem Gloryland by Hall and Oates.
One artist bucking that trend, however, is RedOne. The Moroccan pop producer and solo artist has been on a winning streak when it comes to his sporting anthems. From Magic in the Air and Time of Our Lives for the 2014 World Cup to One World Baby for the following edition of the tournament last year, RedOne seemingly managed the near impossible double task of creating a song fit for the occasion and tasteful enough to withstand repetition in arenas and on television screens.
His latest sporting ode could be his best yet. Created for and performed live as part of the 2019 African Games in Morocco last month, the euphoric We Love Africa went on to score goals of its own. Since its release, it has racked up more than 36 million views on YouTube, with an average of one million views per day.
RedOne, real name Nadir Khayat, knew the song was a winner when his confidantes and family heard it prior to the release. “They all told me the same thing in that they felt it deeply,” he recalls. “Some people had tears in their eyes. And this is really what a song like that should do. Sports or big events are all about emotions and a theme song has to reflect that or help create those feelings.”
Those emotions are real. We Love Africa is simply exuberant. The track is propelled by West African drumming rhythms, a heart-rending choral by a collection of singers from Gabon and vocals delivered by the brilliant young Malian singer Inna Modja, Aminux from Morocco and RedOne himself.
The song’s pathos comes from the powerful yet simple lyrics (Let’s celebrate and let the world know / Here we are mama Africa) that belie the resilience of a proud continent.
“Africa continues to be misunderstood and people have these ideas about it that are not positive. And that comes from what Africa went through and what we see in the news,” RedOne says. “I wanted the song to tell a different story. I am not saying that Africa is not going through its challenges. Instead, with the song I am giving that message that in spite of that, we as Africans are still here. We are still positive and love life.”
The fact that the song has eclipsed the event doesn't surprise RedOne. As producer for nearly two decades, who has worked with everyone from Lady Gaga (Bad Romance and Poker Face) and Enrique Iglesias (I Like How It Feels) to co-writing Jennifer Lopez's smash hit On The Floor, he feels the musical tides are turning towards Africa.
“You can see a bigger African element coming in to the pop songs today,” he says. “I always wanted to do a song celebrating African music, but waited until the right project came along to give it a bigger profile.”
RedOne received the call from the African Games in April and was given a two-month deadline to create the song. Thus began the globetrotting creative process that had RedOne writing the song in Amsterdam. The lyrics were messaged by Pat Devine in Ireland. All the singers were then flown in to RedOne's home studio in Tetouan, Morocco, to record their parts, before they all relocated to Senegal to shoot the colourful video.
Reflecting back at those "crazy days", RedOne welcomes the tight nature of such projects. He credits that focus for producing some of his best work. "If you go with a good attitude, then it all works out and I am used to these conditions," he says. "Don't forget, Lady Gaga and I wrote Bad Romance in the back of a bus while on tour in Europe."