There is stuff flying around the internet about this and I get a lot of emails asking what the real story is, so here you go.
I was mixing Freshlyground's new record at FLUX in NYC in February after having produced and tracked it in Cape Town in January. We had submitted a song to FIFA for the World Cup anthem called 'Africans' (It was called many things that day, starting with 'Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah'), which we had recorded/mixed/mastered in one day in the middle of the tracking sessions in Cape Town, and had heard nothing of about it since.
It just so happened that my friend John Hill had written and was producing a World Cup song too, with Shakira, downstairs from my studio, in his room.
AND it so happened that since we had such an amazing time during the production and tracking phases of their record that all seven members of Freshlyground decided to come to New York to be there for the mix.
AND it also happened that John wanted to add more of an African flavor to his track.
AND is so happened that SONY/FIFA really wanted to feature duets between Western stars and African artists for this World Cup.
AND it also happened that the Shakira team had heard Freshlyground (Not sure sure which track, but probably the 'Africans' demo via SONY/FIFA)
So when John called one morning to ask if I had heard of an African band called Freshlyground, I said, 'Yes, I have, they are sitting right here in my control room as I'm mixing their new record'. What are the odds?
He came up with a really good rough of the track on a CD and Freshlyground listened to it, started jamming to it and came up with a bunch of ideas around the original track. Everybody bringing new parts, cool little riffs and I urged Zolani to write a little bridge kinda thing (That turned out to be a good idea).
John came back a few hours later, listened to them play the song live, loved it, asked if we could record it. Meredith Mc Candless and Mike Comparetto set the room up in record time for a seven piece live session, we were ready to go in under 2 hours.
The guys played a couple live takes over the guide track, pretty much nailed it on the first take. We did a couple choir style vocal overdubs too. John took off with the drive and the next thing we knew the song had been chosen to be the World Cup Anthem.
There is more to this story though.
First, the song was originally great. I knew right away that it had the potential of true universality. The production was punchy and fresh. It already had some African vibe to it from the intro and a really nice traditional guitar part on the chorus outro. The version that is being played in the western world is very close to that original track John gave us to work with. The bridge Zolani wrote really opens up the song and her voice is great duet material with Shakira's overall it's a really good pop song with lots of great musicianship, just the right amount of everything.
What most people don't know is that a few weeks later I got a call from SONY to make a more African version of the song.
So I went back and produced a version featuring a lot more of the Freshlyground material that we recorded at FLUX that afternoon. That's the version high up in the charts in South Africa and vicinity.
Zolani went back and recorded the verses and the choruses and I made it more of a duet, bringing Zolani in on the first verse and giving her most of the second verse. I also added the flutes, violins, organs and percussions from the live session so that all members of Freshlyground are actually playing on the track.
The new vocal session was done over Skype while Zolani was in Johannesburg and I was here working on the track in NYC. The engineer would send me bits of verses with bar numbers in the file name over Skype and I would drop them in ProTools as they went along. It was pretty surreal. Came out great though.
I sent the final mix (v1.1) to David Kutch at the Mastering Palace and it went straight to radio the day after that. See if you can find that version somewhere, it's pretty rad :-) The mix sounds huge too because I did not have the pressure to make it loud.
So whatever happened to ''Africans'? We were working very hard with Freshlyground to put it on their record untilt he last minute, but it just did not fit (Too popy?) so we discarded it in the end. (You should go and get Radio Africa asap)
BUT, the following week and after the news of the Shakira/Freshly duet, SONY decided they wanted to put the original 'African' on the Hello Afrika South African compilation CD.
Unfortunately, at the end of the original demo version, I had asked Zolani to sing 'We Are All Africans'chant style. Rings a bell ? So we changed that, since that line had been recycled into WAKA WAKA, and made another version called 'I Am An African'.
That is also a great track with a nasty afro-beat groove and wonderful lyrics.
See if you can find THAT somewhere :-)
Is that enough info?
I make records.
As a writer, producer and mixer I travel the world in pursuit of what makes music great, the rest of time I hang out in New York City.
Over the last few years I have worked on tracks for/with/featuring: Queen Latifah, Jennifer Lopez, DJ Colette, Isaac Hayes, Lucy Woodward, Shakira, Santigold, Mark Ronson, Les Nubians, Musiq Soulchild, Toots And The Maytals, Bon Jovi, Marc Anthony, Sean Lennon, John Travolta, Rick Margitza, MAM, Kirk Whalum, Babyface, Brazilian Girls, Nat King Cole, Bebel Gilberto and a bunch of lesser known but nonetheless extremely talented artists.
The fairies of the Grammy Awards have had the good grace of smiling on my crib three times so far, once in 2004 with a win for the Toots and The Maytals 'Duets' album, and two nominations in 2011 for the Kirk Whalum 'Everything' album featuring Musiq Soulchild. I have also had the great pleasure to produce and mix the 4 times SAMA nominated 'Radio Africa' for Freshlyground.