Meet the world’s newest national anthem aka ‘What the hell’s Mauritania just done?!?’

If you’d asked me yesterday, what the world’s scariest national anthem was, I’d have shot back in a second: Mauritania’s.

It sounds like the Death Star’s just landed and earth’s about to be destroyed:

Why did I write “If you’d asked me yesterday….”? Because this morning, thanks to nationalanthems.info, I learnt they’ve changed it. And worse, they’ve changed it to this:

Yes, it’s an ok anthem – functional – but where’s the threat gone? Where’s the distinctiveness disappeared to? Mauritania’s the world’s last country where slavery effectively exists – surely you want terrifying music to represent a country that does that?

The anthem was written by an Egyptian, Rajih Sami Daoud – a music professor in Cairo who, according to this story, has a degree in “super arts”, whatever that is.

Rajih Sami Daoud, composer of Mauritania’s new anthem

Egyptians have composed many other countries’ anthems, from the UAE’s to Tunisia’s – read my book to learn all about why! – but the choice has gone down very badly in Mauritania, with the country’s most famous blogger calling it “a scandal”. Nice to see nationalism’s growing everywhere.

Mohamed Lemine Ould Cheikh, the country’s minister for culture and handicrafts (yes, handicrafts), has displayed a surprisingly good knowledge of anthem history to dismiss the complaints: “Musical composition is a technical issue,” he said.

“Most of the national anthems of Arab countries were written by foreigners. Even the American anthem was composed by an Englishman.”

All true, mate, but the real question you should be answering is why you’ve dumped one of the world’s best anthems for this monstrosity!

The words were always meant to be changed, but why they did the music to is beyond me.

😦

Write an anthem, get a GIF!

This week, Ibrahim al-Khafaji, the poet behind Saudi Arabia’s national anthem, sadly passed away aged 90.

Most anthem poets’ deaths go unnoticed until about 30 years later when someone decides to name a road after them. But the Saudi authorities gave Ibrahim a properly modern tribute: by drawing a cartoon of him and turning it into a GIF!

It’s, er, very touching.

Ibrahim wrote numerous patriotic odes, but deserves special tribute for giving the country’s anthem words in 1984 since it’d been strictly instrumental beforehand. His lyrics are super religious. “Glorify, the creator of the heavens,” it goes at one point. “Repeat: Allahu Akbar.” But then, what’d you expect? It’s Saudi Arabia.

Shame the song’s not the best.

Rest in power, Ibrahim.

Zimbabwe: Mugabe goes, but not his song

Mugabe at the graduation ceremony post-coup

One of the final things Robert Mugabe did last week as Zimbabwe’s president was attend a graduation ceremony where he bizarrely sang the country’s national anthem as if no coup had happened.

What no reports pointed out was that the song was his anthem.

Zimbabwe used to have God Bless Africa as its anthem – the great liberation tune that became world famous during South Africa’s struggle against apartheid and is better known as Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika.

But, in 1994, Mugabe decided it was time for a change, to instead have a song that could help create the Zimbabwe he wanted. He held a contest and Blessed be the Land of Zimbabwe was the winnner.

What’s it like? A bloody boring hymn, unfortunately!

But one thing stands out about it today: the final verse. “Oh God, we beseech Thee to bless Zimbabwe,” it goes. “May leaders be exemplary / Let the nation…be lifted high.”

Mugabe clearly didn’t follow that call. Here’s hoping whoever leads the country next does.

Although some clearly want a change:

The most important story you’ll ever read about national anthems

Arghhhh!!!! Please save Ron (above) from God Save the Queen! (This is copyright the Hull Daily News/MEN Media. Sorry for stealing)

I’ve been away a while as I’ve been writing articles like this (front page of The New York Times, baby!) and this and this, but it turns out in that time I missed telling you some vital anthem news.

“What could that be?”, I hear you ask. “China extending the jail term for anyone who disrespects its anthem to an insane three years?” Nope! “The Philippines starting to arrest people who don’t stand for its anthem?” Of course not! “More brouhaha in the US?”

Er, it’s actually the story of an 87-year-old from Hull, Ron Goldspink, who’s started aurally hallucinating a male-voice choir singing God Save the Queen 24/7. He hears it 1,700 times a week.

Yes, I did get this from The Daily Mail.

Apparently it’s a real medical condition called musical ear syndrome, although Ron initially mistook it for his patriotic neighbours turning their stereo up too loud.

“I complained about my next door neighbour who I thought was playing music and keeping me awake,” Ron said. “My son complained to the council and when they came down I told them I could hear this music coming through the wall every night.

“They went next door and…said they were not playing anything, and I realised it was just me that could hear it.”

He’d like to meet the Queen so he can tell her about it, he added.

No, I can’t believe I’m posting this either. Good luck, Ron!

What to do when locked out of a polling booth? Sing about murdering Castilians

Catalonia’s independence referendum hasn’t gone to plan, with people prevented from voting, riot police storming polling booths and injuries reported all over Catalunya.

I’ve written about the region’s “national anthem”, El Segadors – The Reapers, before. It’s a dark, sludge of a tune, all about murdering Castilians (it was written in the 1640s when Catalunya was fighting an uprising against the rest of Spain).

“Drive away these people who are so conceited and so contemptful,” it goes at one point. “Strike with your sickle!”

But it’s worth mentioning it again today, especially since it’s getting a lot of airings outside closed polling booths:

There are even bands playing it in full on the streets:

Given what’s happened – the contempt towards the vote – it’s unsurprising the anthems’s everywhere, although it really isn’t the most rousing song for a moment like this, is it?

Here’s the anthem in full with some English sub-titles for anyone who feels suitably stirred:

Has Kurdistan just given the world its newest national anthem?

Voters!

Kurdish voters! Why can’t we have that inky finger in the UK?

Kurdistan – at least the bit of it in Iraq – has voted for independence. Go them!

Which means one of two things: either the Middle East is about to have its most earth-shattering moment since the creation of Israel, or the US will tell the Kurds to shut up and it’ll have to stay awkwardly part of Iraq for a few more years (here’s a good analysis explaining both possibilities).

But one thing’s certain whatever the outcome: Kurds will keep singing Ey Reqib – Oh, Enemy! – as if they already have a national anthem.

“Oh, enemy! The Kurdish people live on / They have not been crushed by the weapons of any time,” goes the song, written by the poet Dildar while in an Iranian jail in 1938 (he was locked up for campaigning for independence).

“Let no one say Kurds are dead, they are living / They live and never shall we lower our flag.”

That clip’s a version by the singer Dashni Morad, which she posted on Facebook just before the vote with the note: “To all my Kurdish brothers and sisters, times may have changed, but our objective hasn’t. Do not lose sight of what is important here. Independence is within touching distance. Let us unite and make this happen, as those before us always dreamed.”

As an anthem, it certainly does the trick, which explains scenes like this after the vote – (weirdly filmed in Iran, I think):

When researching my book on anthems, I considered a chapter on Kurdistan – I liked the idea of looking at the power of national anthems in countries that didn’t exist – and did some initial research by visiting Bayan Rahman, the Kurdish government’s representative in the UK.

In our first meeting, just down the road from Buckingham Palace, she diplomatically told me Ey Reqib isn’t an independence song:

“It was written at a time when Kurds’ language wasn’t recognised, when people were trying to deny the existence of Kurds at all in Turkey.

“They were killing Kurds – genocides – but it was saying, ‘I’m the never-ending Kurd. You can try to kill me but we will get up again.’

“It was a song about survival. ‘I will exist.’ It’s really not about independence.”

A few months later I went to meet her a second time – ISIS were bearing down on Erbil and I was trying to get access to the Peshmerga’s front lines so I could see if they sang Ey Reqib in battle. And that time, for some reason, she was far more open about the role the song had played in both her life, and the wider independence movement.

Bayan’s father had been a senior member of the Peshmerga and went on to be a successful politician until he was killed by a suicide bomber in 2004.

Bayan smiled while telling me about him, and suddenly remembered a night in the ’70s when he woke her and her brother, dragged them outside where all the adults were partying, and made the two children sing, while recording it all on a tape player.

“You would think that at that age we would be singing nursery rhymes, like Humpty Dumpty or whatever. But we were singing Peshmerga songs.

“My father was a Peshmerga. We’d lived in the mountains and we had guns in the house and he’d come home with his Kalashnikov, and so we had grown up with all that, seeing them sing before they went off to battle. So he made us sing like them.

“He got my brother to sing one: ‘Mother dearest, don’t start crying. I’ve been killed, but I’m a martyr, I’m a hero, I’ll come back.’

“And then my brother and father were killed in 2004, and my mother used to play that tape [over and over].

“And, of course, all she did was cry.”

I asked Bayan if Ey Reqib meant more to her because of that loss:

“Yes, I definitely think of them and others who have been killed when I sing it, because they were killed because they believed in it.

“They believed in what that song says.”

That quote tells you everything about the strength of feeling in Kurdistan and the power of anthems.

Whether Kurdistan becomes independent or it has to stay part of Iraq, neither the anthem nor the desire is going anywhere.

 

“Get that son of a bitch off the field right now”

Was anything surprising about Trump calling American footballers who protest the country’s anthem ‘sons of bitches’?

Nope, of course not. It served its purpose – kickstarting a “USA! USA!” chant at his latest rally.

It’s also not surprising he had a completely different opinion last year either.

As it won’t be if he changes his view again next week.

It’s times like this, when I’d really like an American book publisher to get in touch and ask me to update my book for them!