Just days away from the biggest gig of his career, opening the 2010 FIFA World Cup™ in South Africa, international R&B star R Kelly joked that he was so delighted to have his song chosen as the tournament's official anthem he would have been happy to walk to Johannesburg, let alone fly.
The American producer has won multiple awards during a glittering music career, including three Grammys, but this, the 31-year-old says, stands alone as the highlight.
"This is my World Cup, musically, and I'm very honoured to be a part of it," revealed the American, whose trademark song 'I Believe I Can Fly' is clearly the mantra by which he lives his life. "Any time you are involved in something this big and this historical, it automatically lets you know that you can fly too, in your own life. I believe I can fly. But I couldn't believe that this particular song was chosen, although I felt it was custom-made for this event."
'Sign of a Victory' is an inspirational collaboration with the Soweto Spiritual Choir, a group Kelly linked up with following some in-depth research by one of his consultants, prompted by the singer-songwriter's desire to work with "a beautiful choir". The finished article is widely thought to be one of the finest tracks the R&B star has penned, and is the product of considerable research on Kelly's part, with the American admitting that his football knowledge has only recently been acquired.
This is my World Cup, musically, and I'm very honoured to be a part of it.
"I believe in doing my research for something this big, so I went and got some books and watched soccer, and I really started getting into it," he said. “And two days later the song just started coming to me. I have a much better respect for soccer right now because of this whole World Cup.
"I grew up on the south side of Chicago, in 'the 'hood'," he added. "We had nothing and we used to kick whatever we could find around in the street – cans, bottles ... each other if we got mad enough! Basketball was pretty much the thing then, but on TV, every now and then, you could flick to a channel and see soccer. The only problem is that I didn't know the rules, I didn't know the game. It looked interesting, though, very interesting. But at that age, 12 or 13, you are just waiting for that ball to go in the back of the net – and I've been waiting on that ever since!"
Despite their traditional thirst for more visible results when it comes to sport, Americans, says Kelly, are currently in the grip of FIFA World Cup™ fever. And he includes himself in that. "Everywhere I go people are talking to me about it. They say, 'I hear you're doing the World Cup'. And I've been bragging,'You know I'm going to be opening up the World Cup!'. I'm telling everybody about it, but everybody already seems to know. It's the biggest thing I've ever been involved with, it really is."
The fact the tournament is being held in Africa for the first time too, is not lost on the international star, who has long harboured a desire to visit the continent. "It's extra special doing it here in South Africa, more special than anywhere else," he said, “because I believe that humanity, the spirit of people and DNA all started right here, in Africa."
R Kelly will be one of 1,581 performers at the Opening Ceremony at Soccer City in Johannesburg on Friday, alongside a host of big names from across Africa, including TKZee, Algeria's Khaled, Ghana's Osibisa and Hip Hop Pantsula. It will be watched by hundreds of millions of people in more than 215 countries.
Kelly hopes the occasion, and his song will leave a lasting legacy in Africa and beyond. "I want my song to go beyond what I wrote it for and, perhaps, touch people all around the world and inspire them," he said. "I'm really hoping that with this song we can promote world peace first, and help with global-warming, and humanity around the world. This is my hope. I believe that music can guide us and lead us into a world of peace."
For the next few weeks, however, football is the name of the game. So, who does the R&B star believe will leave the Rainbow Nation as world champions this summer? "As far as that is concerned I have no idea," he laughed. "So, I'm going for South Africa!"
- Gates to Soccer City open at 10am (local time) on 11 June, with the Opening Ceremony starting at 2pm. Fans are urged to be seated by 1pm.