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All-world entertainment for World Cup concert

On the eve of the World Cup, a concert featuring the Black Eyed Peas, Shakira, and South African entertainers took place in Soweto.

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Members of the Black Eyed Peas perform during the opening concert for the 2010 World Cup at the Orlando Stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg June 10, 2010.

REUTERS/Radu Sigheti

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The world came to Soweto on Thursday for a celebration of football, music and unity on the eve of Africa's first World Cup, with a concert featuring international headliners Shakira, the Black Eyed Peas and Alicia Keys.

Warm-up acts played for hours before the internationally televised portion of the concert began at 8 p.m. with a frenzy of flag waving, drumming and African-inspired dancing.

Veteran South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela took the stage with "Grazin' in the Grass" a No. 1 international hit in 1968. He was quickly joined by a new South African star, Lira, who covered the late Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata", another worldwide hit that originated in South Africa.

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The Black Eyed Peas were next with a slick medley of their hits, then it was back to Africa, with the blind duo Amadou & Mariam of Mali and their sinuous, driving sound.

About a third of the seats at Soweto's 40,000-seat Orlando stadium were blocked off for the stage and backstage. Most of what was left were filled, as was a dance floor on the pitch.

The monthlong tournament the concert celebrates begins Friday at the main Soccer City stadium just outside Soweto, with host South Africa taking on Mexico. Organizers called the concert and the first game triumphs after years of questions about whether a world class event could be staged in a nation saddled with poverty and crime and still riven by the legacy of apartheid.

"This is a showcase," concertgoer Nana Masithela said as she entered Orlando Thursday. "We are showcasing ourselves, to say, 'Blacks can do it!"

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Sepp Blatter, head of world football governing body FIFA, had pushed to bring the World Cup to Africa. He made a brief appearance during the concert to speak about 1GOAL, a campaign to improve education in impoverished countries. South African President Jacob Zuma, who took the stage with Blatter, thanked South Africans for the welcome they have given World Cup fans, and called on them "to show the warmness for the whole duration of the tournament."

Orlando, the venue for Thursday's concert, got a three-year, $43 million renovation as part of a nationwide building spree in preparation for the World Cup. Sandy Angus, a British event organizer who said he has been a regular visitor to South Africa since the 1970s, remembered Orlando when it was little more than rows of bleachers and a scruffy pitch. He marveled Thursday at the gleaming, concrete and steel structure it had become.

"Everything has changed, from roads to airports to trains," Angus said.

South Africans of all races filled Orlando, parading in the yellow and green of their national team, or draping themselves in their flag. Football fans from other countries also sported their colors.

Speaking before the concert, cast members celebrated sports and arts as unifying forces.

"Music is a universal language," said American John Legend, who performed a duet during the concert with Angelique Kidjo of Benin. "This competition, football, is a universal language."

Concertgoer Tumi Mohafa agreed, saying the mix of races in the renovated stadium in an area where blacks once were confined is a sign of how far South Africa has come from apartheid, which ended in 1994.

Mohafa says: "We're a rainbow nation."

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