One of the controversies at this year’s World Cup in South Africa (beside the horrendous officiating) has been the ball, known as the Jabulani, Zulu for rejoice. Strikers hate it, goalkeepers find it unpredictable, and even the all-powerful and usually clueless FIFA has decided it will look into the issue once the tournament ends. The ball has been called “capricious” and likened to “a crazy gerbil.” Luis Fabiano, Brazil’s top goal scorer, said of the Jabulani: “It’s very weird. It’s like it doesn’t want to be kicked.” Maybe that’s why he felt he had to use his hands to control the ball and score against Ivory Coast.
I’m no Luis Fabiano, but I did play with a Jabulani last weekend, and can attest to the fact that it seemed a litte light. A friend told me about a game on Sunday here in Oakland where the ball spiralled off the crossbar, bounced over a fence, and then over the eight-lane highway beside the field. Clearly, something is amiss.
Naturally, I turned to music for an explanation, and remembered this track from Abdullah Ibrahim’s beautiful 1977 album “The Journey”, recorded live at Alice Tully Hall in New York. Ibrahim, whom you may also know as Dollar Brand, is one of South Africa’s true jazz heroes, and he assembled an all-star band for this show, including trumpet great Don Cherry, baritone player Hamiet Bluiett (co-founder of the World Saxophone Quartet), and one of my favorite bassists, Johnny Dyani. All were in fine form that night. The complete track is about 18 minutes long, but I’m only posting a five minute excerpt so that you might understand a bit about this ball. If you haven’t watched a game of the World Cup yet, and are wondering what the hell I’m talking about: this song pretty much describes what the ball does.
As an added bonus, I think I can hear the pleasing drone of a vuvuzela or two at the end… Or maybe, after 50+ matches, it’s just ringing in my ears.
Jabulani by Abdullah Ibrahim
música y fútbol,