Thousands rock Soweto at World Cup concert

SOWETO, South Africa - Thousands of people rocked Orlando Stadium in South Africa's biggest township on Thursday, singing in harmony at the first 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 and international singing stars took to the stage, the first time such a music event has been held as part of the World Cup opening.

"The whole world has come to Soweto... and football was one of the things that helped people realise that we are connected - that wonderful game that brought a country together," will.i.am of the U.S. group Black Eyed Peas told Reuters before the band opened the colourful showcase of African music in collaboration with international artists.

"This is humanity coming together."

The concert was broadcast live around the world, and stars included 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 South African group Freshly Ground.

Children and the elderly alike waved South African flags and sang "Shosholoza," the popular local tune sung mostly at football 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," said 44-year-old Vanitha Govender, who works for Standard Bank.

RAINBOW NATION

Shimmy Jiyane, leader of the Soweto Gospel Choir who will perform with U.S. singer John Legend said the world was seeing South Africa's "rainbow nation."

"The struggle started here in Soweto... and Soweto now we call it Hollywood - we got malls, we got beautiful soccer fields, we got trains - you aren't scared of going anywhere because it's beautiful to be here," he said.

South African President Jacob Zuma and FIFA President Sepp Blatter also joined in 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 (event) of the world like any other region. Africa is hosting this tournament, South Africa is just the stage," said Zuma.

Proceeds from the concert will go to build 20 centres across Africa offering healthcare, education and football training for disadvantaged communities, FIFA's official social campaign for the World Cup.

The crowd chanted "Tutu, Tutu" as the tiny figure of Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu jigged out on to the stage sporting a green and yellow striped hat and scarf.

"It's like I'm dreaming man - wake me up!" He told the crowd. "Thank you for helping this ugly worm which we were to become a beautiful, beautiful butterfly."

The month-long World Cup, being held in Africa for the first time, gets underway on Friday with the opening match between hosts South Africa and Mexico.

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