JOHANNESBURG, June 11 � The first World Cup football in Africa kicked off with a feast of song and dance as thousands of musicians and dancers in South Africa�s Soccer City stadium welcomed the world �home� to the continent where man took his first steps.
A flyby of fighter jets with South African flags on their tails kick-started the colourful ceremony in the Calabash � the nickname of the stadium that was rebuilt for the World Cup to resemble an African gourd vegetable and cooking pot.
The cooking pot is also a metaphor for the rich mix of cultures in the host country and continent.
Welcoming the world in the Xhosa language was Zolani Mkhiva, an official praise singer who was wearing a red cape, head dress of porcupine quills and leopard skin over his bare chest.
�The historic moment has arrived,� he declared.
Hundreds of performers wrapped in blankets in the rainbow colours of South Africa�s flag formed nine aerial lines from the centre of the stadium, representing bridges to the other nine World Cup host cities.
Xhosa songstress Thandiswa Mazwai performed the famous Click song of the late Miriam Makeba, South Africa�s �Mama Africa.�
Algerian rap icon Khaled and Nigerian afrobeat star Femi Kuti, both of whose countries are participating in the tournament, also entertained the crowd of mostly South African supporters, who were still arriving when the opening ceremony began after long delays in traffic.
Dancers dressed in red and mustard yellow recreated a sizzling calabash on the pitch from 48 giant panels in the ochre and dun colours of the stadium�s outer shell.
US soul singer R Kelly teamed up with a Soweto gospel group to perform the World Cup anthem �Sign of a Victory� in front of a multicoloured baobab - the iconic African �upside down tree.�
A group of dancers also used their African-patterned wrap skirts to form a fluttering patchwork Africa over the pitch and a giant dung beetle played with an oversized Jabulani � the official tournament football.
A sea of South African flags fluttered over the crowd, which came dressed from head to foot in the national team�s yellow and green. From the outside, the sound of thousands of buzzing vuvuzelas sounded a disturbed wasp�s nest.
The show drew on 1,500 performers ranging in age from six to the late sixties and was broadcast live to hundreds of millions of viewers in 215 countries. � DPA