Amongst the depressingly standard Brazilian iconography deployed in the World Cup opening ceremony – rainforests, capoeira, carnival – gigantic models of various musical instruments trundled their way around the stage. Extraordinary, really, that FIFA and the local security forces didn’t confiscate them beforehand, for musical instruments are among the very many things spectators are banned from bringing into World Cup stadiums.
This mean-spirited rule is FIFA’s response to the vuvuzela dilemma at the 2010 World Cup. A long-established feature of South African football crowds, the vuvuzela – an elongated plastic horn, blown throughout a match, emitting a buzz that some likened to an insect swarm – was not to everyone’s liking. Players, visiting fans and TV executives, protested, bought ear plugs and tried to filter the audio track from the stadium. FIFA president Sepp Blatter rushed to the vuvuzela’s defense, explaining that “Africa has a different rhythm, a different sound.”
He was right; inside the stadiums the chorus of vuvuzelas produced a much more complex soundscape. Skilled individuals could extract a range of notes and tones from the instrument, call and response between parts of the crowd was facilitated. For the many spectators who were new to football altogether, it presented an easy way to be part of a dynamic crowd. Best of all they were cheap to manufacture, easy to adorn, and impossible to trademark – giving a real, if short-term boost to the local traders and artisans otherwise excluded from the beanfeast.
Initially, FIFA and the Brazilian government sought to emulate the vuvuzela, commissioning the caxirola – a laughable molded plastic shaker with knuckle-duster finger grips – as the “official noisemaker” of the 2014 World Cup. Trials at a game in Fortaleza in 2013 saw the crowd pelt the pitch with their free caxirolas. So, along with drums, horns and instruments of any kind, the “official noisemaker” has been banned from the World Cup – although FIFA shamelessly continues to market these absurd gourds for a mere $14 a shot.
The vuvuzela is not for every World Cup; the caxirola is best consigned to the recycling bin, but quite why this should turn into a blanket ban on musical instruments is beyond me. Not everyone is unhappy about this. There have been plenty of England fans who are pleased to see the back of the England band – a northern brass ensemble that bangs out a limited repertoire of patriotic chants and ironic commentary from pop culture – most famously the theme tune from the WWII prisoner of war movie “The Great Escape.” Still, many fans find it hugely disappointing that in Brazil of all places, the country that has most systematically associated its football with its traditions of music and dance, that the crowd is banned from making music.
We can be grateful, then, for the small African contingents who have defied these absurd regulations and brought some welcome rhythmic vibrations to the stands in Brazil. Ghana, whose players were filmed singing on their way into the stadium before their game with the USA, had at least half a dozen big drums. Drummers were also in evidence at Ivory Coast’s game against Japan.
The Nigerian Football Supporters club had their drums confiscated in Curitiba before the Iran game. Seriously, 500 Nigerians show up at your cosmopolitan football festival and stage a vast impromptu musical procession that has everyone going, and you want to take their drums away? I am pleased to report that the Nigerians did manage to get their trumpets into the arena and managed repeated bursts of sound before hiding the horns from the local music police.
In the absence of music from the stands, and the dismal quality of the official tournament song, the main soundtrack to Brazil 2014 comes in the form of a prelude - the national anthems. This has been given a greatly increased importance by the style and technology of filming that has evolved – the slow track in close up across the team’s faces and the directional microphones make it very, very clear who is singing, how well the know the words, and whether they can hold a tune.
Players declining to sing the national anthem – or doing so in a way that suggests that they don’t really know the words – has ignited political controversy in recent years. In some cases, like the German squad’s performance of their anthem at Euro 2012, it was thought indicative of a general lack of pride and determination. More pointedly, the French far right have targeted French players of North and West African descent who choose not to sing – most recently Karim Benzema – as part of their wider campaign to exclude immigrants and people of African descent from the public’s conception of the French nation.
In 2012, Serbia went as far as to drop defender Adem Ljajic from the squad after he failed to sing. He defended himself by arguing that though he loved Serbia, as a Muslim he could not sing lyrics that praised and admired the pantheon of Hellenic gods. A similar unpleasant animus can be seen in Argentine reactions to Lionel Messi and Swedes to Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Neither sings the anthem, causing some to question their patriotic credentials. England coach Roy Hodgson sought to defuse the problem by insisting that all his players sing.
The crowd, of course, have been the loudest singers. The home nation has sung lustily, first an accompanied verse of the anthem and then another a capella, recording over one hundred decibels in their game against Mexico. The big Latin American contingents – Colombia, Chile, Argentina – have been almost as loud.
Nothing wrong with that. It may be the World Cup, but its nation against nation on the pitch. We collectively revel in others’ national pride and idiosyncrasies. But it seems such a narrow and diminished vision of the world – and its universal pleasures of football and music – that national anthems and their unpleasant identity/patriotism tests are the peak musical moments of the tournament.
We have the ingredients in Brazil to celebrate the relationship between football and music; for the moment the governing authorities are doing their best to keep them apart. That’s what happens when ministries and international organizations create fiestas in their own image.