SOWETO, South Africa (Reuters) - Thousands of people rocked Orlando Stadium in South Africa’s biggest township on Thursday, singing in harmony at the official World Cup concert on the eve of the world’s most watched sporting event.
Concert-goers clapped and cheered amidst almost freezing temperatures as footballers, local musicians and international singing stars took to the stage, the first time such a music concert has been held as part of the World Cup opening events.
“This is great. This concert, the World Cup. When you drive down the road, you can feel it’s changing us...Sports and music are a universal language that everyone understands,” said 28-year-old Neo Baloyi.
U.S. group Black Eyed Peas kicked off the concert, which was broadcast live around the world, with their chart-topping hit “Where is the love.”
Other stars expected to perform include R Kelly, Alicia Keys, Angelique Kidjo and Vusi Mahlasela. Colombian pop star Shakira will sing the official World Cup anthem “Waka Waka (This time for Africa)” with local group Freshly Ground.
Children and the elderly alike waved South African flags and sang “Shosholoza,” the popular local tune sung mostly at soccer matches.
The scene in the 30,000 capacity stadium was reminiscent of 1995, when South Africa, recently free from decades of apartheid rule, won the rugby World Cup. The tournament was widely seen as uniting a country long divided along racial lines.
“This is history in the making. Only 15 years ago we were unsure of our identity, but here we stand as one nation. I’m very excited, I’m very happy to be here, I love the vibe,” said 44-year-old Vanitha Govender, who works for Standard Bank.
South African President Jacob Zuma and FIFA President Sepp Blatter also joined in on the party in Johannesburg’s Soweto township, calling for unity for the duration of the World Cup.
“Africa is showing the world that it is capable of holding any matter of the world like any other region. Africa is hosting this tournament, South Africa is just the stage,” said Zuma.
Net proceeds from the concert will go to 20 Centres for 2010, FIFA’s official social campaign for the World Cup, aimed at achieving positive change in Africa through football.
The campaign aims to build 20 centres across the continent offering healthcare services, education and soccer training for disadvantaged communities.
The month-long soccer World Cup, being hosted in Africa for the first time, gets underway on Friday with the opening match between hosts South Africa and Mexico.
Organizers predicted the concert would draw an even bigger global television audience than Live Earth in 2007.
Additional reporting by Gugulakhe Lourie and Opheera McDoom; Writing by Serena Chaudhry; Editing by John Mehaffey