The music: Laos was once a French colony and is now a communist state, so you’d get good odds on its anthem sounding like either a rip-off of France’s La Marseillaise or a rip-off of China’s March of the Volunteers.
It’s nice to discover, then, that Pheng Xat Lao is that rarest of anthems; it actually sounds like the place it comes from.
Pheng has one of those winding, high-pitched melodies you only find in Southeast Asia, and which seem written solely for men to play on cheap violins while their wives wail along.
The one disappointment is it doesn’t sound like Laos’ pop music, which based on this video is made up of hypnotic, bass-heavy funk.
The lyrics: Pheng Xat Lao’s original lyrics were somewhat condescending to anyone actually from Laos. “In the old days, Lao people were famous all over Asia,” it said, giving the singer a mighty kick in the teeth for not being so famous now.
In the current version (adopted by the communists in the ’70s), every Laotian is famous, past and present. Unfortunately, without the insult, the words are pretty run of the mill. The Laotian people have united for prosperity, it says, which makes you wonder if anyone has ever united for the opposite.
What does it say about the country? That they like their folk music.
Will you hear it at the Paralympics? Maybe, just maybe! There is one Laotian at the Games, 31-year-old powerlifter Eay Simay (that’s him at the top of this post). It’s his third Paralympics. In his first, he came twelfth. In Beijing, he came third. Given that rate of improvement surely he’s going to win gold this time? Plus, his hobby’s tree planting. He deserves a medal just for that.