Hi, I’m Alex Marshall, the London-based culture journalist behind the world’s first book on national anthems.

Get in touch at asmarshall at or via Twitter @alexmarshall81 although journalists can also contact Najma Finlay (nfinlay at if they don’t want to deal with me direct for whatever reason! My agent’s Jon Elek @ United Agents.

I’ve written about anthems for the BBCthe Guardian and the Telegraph, among many others and have also appeared on many radio stations talking about them including NPR, BBC Radios 4 and 5 and the World Service. I’ve even been on TV a worrying number of times.

I normally write about culture for the New York Times (that’s as of June 2018), so yes, anthems are a bit of an odd sideline.

This blog features updates about the book as well as details of anthems worldwide so if you want to read about Japanese politicians trying to force children to sing, this is the place for you, although I’m likely to update it less frequently from my new job. Sorry about that 😦

Thanks to Paraguay for the title.

20 thoughts on “Contact

    • Hi Ahmet – thanks for reading and the interest. I’m still doing research for it so no date yet I’m afraid!
      But I’ve got your email, so will add you to the list to let know when a date’s set.
      And feel free to like my Facebook page or follow my Tumblr if you want updates and you’re not on WordPress.
      Also, I should one day soon write about Turkey’s anthem so let me know if there’s anything interesting about it!

  1. Thanks for your reply, I am actually writing my Master’s dissertation now about the national anthems of Sweden, Turkey and Bosnia H. So I would love to send you some info once I have something more concrete info about the Turkish anthem. I’ll send you an email!

  2. Dear Mr. Marshall,
    For the past 30 years I have been orchestrating national anthems for the Welcome Ceremony at Aberdeen International Youth Festival ( and I have to disagree with you about most of your comments in your TV-news piece with Philippa Thomas. The best anthems (in my opinion of course!) are not necessarily the jolly-opera Chocolate Soldier tunes from South America, most of which sound like what might be found in Verdi’s waste-paper basket. Fine for football, maybe, but lacking in dignity. But I agree that Switzerland has a dirge, and most Arab countries….. well, I won’t go into that for fear of a fatwa. The Nordic countries, in particular Finland, Iceland and Norway, have sober melodies and patriotic words that suit any occasion. Japan and Israel have soulful hymns but with splendid tunes. I could go on at length, and would be delighted to share my thoughts with you. However two anthems that you praised, USA and France, I must comment on: USA uses only one verse, and it asks a question that nobody ever answers!! And as for La Marseillaise – that is the WORST tune in the world: it has no form whatsoever, every line having new music that relates to nothing else, and the words are a scandalous incitement to affray. I cringe every time I hear it. Pardon, mes amis! And remember that ‘God Save the Queen’ was the original ‘national hymn’ and it inspired Haydn to write what is now the German anthem. Trust the Germans to have a real composer to write probably the best tune of all.
    I will now don chain mail, a helmet, and shield, and look forward to your reactions!!

    Yours aye,

    John Hearne

    • Hi John – thanks for the comment, and for watching!
      I think you’ve summed it up best with the “in my opinion of course” comment – anthems are so subjective.
      The ones I like change by the day. I actually did want to talk about Japan’s, which I love, and Nepal’s, but the BBC couldn’t find a suitable clip for the first (copyright’s a pain!) and we ran out of time for the second.
      But I do have to take issue with your criticism of the Marseillaise. It’s a fantastic tune and the words… It’s more incitement to defence if anything, and it’s got a drama that few other anthems do. I much prefer it to any anthem that talks about how green the country’s grass is!
      You’ve got an interesting choice coming up in Scotland, although I think Scotland’s one of the few places that could justifiably have an anthem that doesn’t talk about anything except its landscape.
      Thanks again, Alex

  3. Alex,
    Permit me a few more comments about national anthems (no, not about La M., since we would obviously never agree on that!) and what they are for.
    It seems that most people experience anthems at sporting events, when they celebrate winners or psych up teams (such as at The Six Nations rugby). At such events the more restrained anthems can seem inappropriate.
    But at the Welcome Ceremony in Aberdeen’s Youth Festival they represent a calling-card for participants in a major international NON-COMPETITIVE arts event. Each country and its performers are introduced, their national flag is brought in, and their anthem is played by a full orchestra (and often sung in the original language by one or more of the visiting choirs). This might be thought of as cheesy; but every country is treated the same, whether it be a 100-strong group from Canada or Spain, or a small group of dancers from Azerbaijan or a choir from the Philippines. There are no winners or losers, and the young people therefore introduce themselves without reference to size, status, politics, or ethnic origins. And this really gets to them, and is very noticeable in their reactions on seeing their flag and hearing their anthem. We often recall the unforgettable moment in 1991 when an Estonian Orchestra was introduced and saw their blue/black/white flag brought in and heard their own anthem (same tune as Finland!) and heard their own language for the FIRST TIME IN FIFTY YEARS! The could hardly believe it, and the tears flowed.
    Many young people are indifferent or even scornful of their own anthem or flag – but that soon changes in a ceremony like this.
    So what about Scotland? Well, we don’t have an anthem. ‘Flower of Scotland’ we have tried, but it’s hardly right to sing about sending our visitors “homeward to think again”!! So we rely on the national instrument……… But strictly speaking, England doesn’t have an anthem either. GTSQ is for the UK and the monarch. Only Wales has a proper anthem (I speak as an exiled Cymro!). So I predict trouble ahead for Switzerland and Scotland, and indeed England!!
    Our Welcome Ceremony in Aberdeen this year is on Sunday afternoon 27 July. You would be very welcome to come, and hear 16 anthems including some of my favourites like Ukraine and Israel, and some odd-balls like Azerbaijan and Egypt and China…….. yes, and Japan! (Sadly, we have lost Russia and Mexico through lack of money).
    John Hearne

    • Unfortunately, I can’t make it up to Aberdeen John, but thank you for the invite. It sounds fantastic, and I hope they all go down well.
      Also thanks for the extra comments. I do like the history and drama of Flower of Scotland but I get your point. I also hope you don’t go for “A man’s a man…” as it really won’t work internationally. The poem may have deep meaning, but for an international audience it will just sound like a lot of people singing “and all that” over and over again!


  4. Heard your interview on NPR yesterday (8/26), was surprised that you didn’t mention one writer who wrote anthem’s for 2 countries and was not struggling at the end of his life. Tagore, who, as far as we know, wrote original anthems for India and Bangladesh. I hope your book mentions that.

    • Thanks for listening, Udayan. Tagore is of course in the book – Bangladesh’s is a wonderful thing! On radio I unfortunately didn’t have much time. There are some others who don’t fit the mould, but it’s interesting just how many anthem composers have met problematic ends. Anyway, I hope if you see the book you enjoy it. I’ll try to write more about Tagore on here soon.

  5. Mr Marshall, congratulations on the book! Looks like a great read. There doesn’t seem to be a “follow” button anywhere around. How can one follow this blog?

  6. Hi Alex,

    As a Liechtensteinophile (?) of many years standing I was disappointed to hear you suggest, in a recent radio interview, that the Liechtenstein anthem had never been heard at the Olympics. In Lake Placid (1980) it was played twice thanks to the efforts of skier Hanni Wenzel and additionally it was heard at the 1978 and 1980 World Skiing Championships – courtesy of the Wenzel siblings.

    Great book – devoured it at the weekend. I still make a point of being in my seat early when Italy play in a cup final in order to hear their rousing anthem! I need to get out more!


    Jeff Horwich

    • Hi Jeff – really glad you enjoyed the book and thanks for buying it so insanely quickly. “Devoured it” is an amazingly enjoyable phrase for an author to read!
      Don’t worry, I’m more than aware of Liechtentstein’s past Olympic triumphs – I even tried to interview Hanni for the book, but she was out of the country and, I got the feeling, thought it might be a wind-up.
      I can’t remember the interview you’re referring to, but I probably meant to say that most people there don’t expect to hear it much, especially for the summer games. That point came up in dozens of interviews I did with people who told me the most enjoyable times they’d heard their anthem were when British athletes won medals and they could stand and start singing anyway, in between bouts of laughter. Surprisingly no one mentioned Hanni! Although as it was 35 years ago, you have to be in your 40s to remember that, so it’s not that surprising. My apologies though for the slip up – not intentional by any means.
      Anyway, thanks again for reading it. I couldn’t be more grateful. And please recommend as far and as wide as you can!


  7. Dear Mr Marshall,

    Really interesting BB article. I rather like the verse, but I think he got too adventurous with the bridge.
    In your book, or elsewhere, do you address the way newly-independent African nations (apparently reflexively) ordered-up anthems in the mid-19th century European nationalist style? That is certainly the case for Madagascar. The worst example I’ve heard is the African Union anthem. A Malagasy singer I work with ( was asked to learn it for an AU event. She refused. Utterly uninspiring, the anthem sounds like it came from a committee: How sad for a continent so rich in inspirational music.


    • Hi Daniel – really glad you enjoyed the piece, and I agree with you about the bridge!
      I’d hope everyone who reads my book will come away thinking, ‘God, why are so many of these written by committee, as if ticking a box?’ but the main reason I end up criticising a lot of African (and other) anthems is just for aping their old master’s music, as if they could only have an anthem if it sounded like God Save the Queen or la Marseillaise. I pretty much have a chapter on Nepal solely because they’ve done the opposite and gone for something that actually sounds like the place it’s meant to represent (even if the composer would have liked a Western-style march!). I wish a lot of African countries would do the same.
      But then Nepal had a bizarre moment – a Maoist revolution centred on “freeing” ethnicities and letting their cultures flourish, and so I almost think it was lucky in that regard (as much as any country that has a horrific Maoist revolution is ‘lucky’!).
      I did try to speak with the African Union about theirs – literally one of the worst songs ever written – but they ignored multiple requests over multiple years so I guess they’d prefer not to draw attention to it too!
      If you look at its history, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika has probably got a better claim to be Africa’s true anthem although only the sub-Saharan part obviously. I don’t know how you feel about that. Too Methodist? Too like a Welsh choir? Perhaps, but I don’t think they’ll go down the kwaito route anytime soon!
      Have a scan of the Nepal and South African parts of my audio guide. They might give you an idea of where I’m coming from, although obviously I leave out most of the detail as otherwise why would anyone read the book!
      Anyway, big thanks for taking the time to write and I really hope if you do stumble across a copy of the book, you enjoy it.


  8. Dear Mr. Alex Marshall,

    My friend, Hiroko Tsujitani, who you interviewed for your Republic or Death!, has posted a page from the book on Facebook. One of the comments that the posting received was from Toshimichi Masuda, who you also interviewed. He was rather shocked to see that you had written that his father was dead. Apparently his father is still alive, though he hasn’t been very well. I thought you would like to know.

    Your book seems to be really interesting, and I will definitely get a copy in the future!

    Yours faithfully,

    Yoko Kirwan

    • Bloody hell, Yoko. Can you tell Toshimichi that I’m really – really! – sorry, and that it will be changed for the paperback edition. It must have been a mistake in the translation as I simply went with what was said by my interpreter. If we can clear up what’s correct, I’d be incredibly grateful as I obviously don’t want this wrong and to imply someone’s father’s dead when they’re not. Can you email me or contact me by Facebook message? I’d be incredibly grateful.


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