World in Union

Photo by Manfred Irmer from Pexels


Pierce Brosnan was James Bond, Val Kilmer was Batman and Michelle Garforth was still presenting Top Billing.  Dial up internet downloaded things at the blinding speed of 110bps. Rugby jerseys were baggy and still bore collars.  I knew all the words to “Gangstas Paradise” and kept wondering why Alanis Morissette was singing about a cross-eyed bear.    

Meanwhile, in South Africa

Madiba was in charge.  Our national flag and anthem were both “transitioning” and we were still recovering from standing in the longest voting queue in our history.  The country had been selected to host the Rugby World Cup and quite miraculously we won the final.  Anyone who had a pulse, whether sports fan or not, saw that game.

From that rumbling pre-match SAA “fly over” at the stadium to the final whistle, it was an emotional roller-coaster from start to finish.  An incredibly close match against the reigning champions which went into overtime, Joel Stransky finally provided some much needed bladder-relief with what any South African would peg as the most famous drop-goal ever kicked.

So, this is supposed to be a music post…  We’re getting to that

Unlike other major sporting events which compose a theme song for each tournament, The Rugby World Cup has used the same song since the early 90’s.  “World In Union” was written specifically for the tournament and each host nation selects an artist to sing it. Originally sung by Kiri Te Kanawa in 1991, Shirley Bassey belted out her rendition of it in 1999.  Wedged in the middle is the version by South Africa’s very own PJ Powers and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.

While the music video is a throwback to fashion which seems to (horrifyingly) be finding its way back to our wardrobes and super cheesy picture fade-in effects which were undoubtedly cutting edge at the time, this particular version has been burned into my psyche.  While the video is more than a little cringe-worthy (oh, PJ… what are you doing in that dark room?), hearing this song still manages to bring a lump to my throat and tears to my eyes almost every time.

22 years later…

Last year I attended the Bok game at Emirates Stadium – the same stadium that hosted the ‘95 final.  As part of the publicity for SA’s bid to host the tournament again in 2023, FlySafair recreated that famous pre-match flyover.  Over the deafening sound of the engines I felt PJ’s voice reverberating through me…

It’s the wooooorld in uuuu-niiiii-ooooon / The wooooorld as ooooooooooooooone

Thank goodness for my sunglasses which managed to hide the tears that exploded forth from my eyeballs.  If anyone had noticed this rather awkward moment it would have been “goodbye street cred”, especially seeing as the song wasn’t actually playing at the time.  Sometimes a piece of music just touches something deep inside of you and you can’t help but have a physical reaction to it.  World in Union is but one example for me.

While I composed myself I did notice a few red, bulgy eyes around me.  At least I managed to restrain myself from the “ugly cry”.  Small mercies…

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I suggest you queue up Invictus.  I didn’t even make it to the end of the movie trailer without a tear so feel free to let it all out at anytime!

Has a song ever made you cry in public?  Don’t feel shy to share in the comments – we’re all friends here!

4 thoughts on “World in Union

  1. Laureen says:

    Did you know that the tune for “The World in Union” is even older? It was composed by Holst between 1914 and 1916 for his Jupiter piece, which, incidentally, contains several other familiar refrains!

    Liked by 1 person

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