Musically, there are four main types of national anthem: the hymn, the march, the Middle Eastern fanfare and the South American epic. And what’s this below? Why, it’s a handy playlist with all of them for you!
Then there’s also Nepal’s.
Nepal’s might not be the best anthem written, but it’s easily the most distinctive – one of the few that actually sounds like the place it comes from, rather than like it was written by a vicar after a brisk walk in the English countryside. It’s also the only anthem you can picture being played on a radio station in a South Asian takeaway.
It was actually written by this man, Amber Gurung, after an awful lot of struggle (p51).
Amber was a legend of Nepali music until he really sadly died in June 2016. If you’d like to hear the song that made him, written in the ’50s and about the problems of Nepali’s abroad, banned by the Indian government for apparently being dangerous, it’s here.
The anthem’s words, meanwhile, were written by Byakul Maila, or Pradip Kumar Rai as his mother knows him.
Yes, he looks very cheery, which may strike you as strange if you’ve read the book and know what he went through after his poem was chosen to be the anthem, but re-read pages 43-44. He’s happy then!
Pradip’s lately been making other poems and songs, and so, for any Nepali or Indian music moguls reading, here’s my favourite, which has a great chorus and would go down very well with yoga instructors.
Nepal only gained Pradip and Amber’s anthem in 2007, following a Maoist uprising. The country’s first anthem was technically the music to God Save the Queen, but it was changed after complaints by the British envoy to Nepal. His office was near the military band’s practice ground and the staff had to stop work and stand to attention every time it was played. It happened so frequently they couldn’t do their jobs.
After that, it got this royal anthem, May Glory Crown You Courageous Sovereign, with lyrics about how the “illustrious, profound, awesome, glorious ruler” should “live for years to come” and “his subjects increase.”
Here is a picture of the last Nepalese king for you. Yes, this ‘look’ might explain why he was the victim of a revolution.
Unsurprisingly, the Maoists hated his anthem and that largely explains why we’ve ended up with the fun anthem of Nepal today.
There are some other anthems that sound like the places they come from, of course (p42), although none are as out there as Nepal’s. Take Puerto Rico’s for example, originally a dance tune called Gorgeous Brunette. The anthem still carries a little heat of the original in its trumpets. Both are below.
Some of Africa’s also try to incorporate folk melodies, often (it hates me to admit) thanks to having had European ethnomusicologists involved in writing them. Kenya’s O God of All Creation is one of those and is really beautiful when heard a cappella. Senegal’s is actually called Strum Your Koras, Strike Your Balafons after the instruments it’s meant to be played on, although I haven’t ever heard it done that way despite searching numerous archives. If anyone out there has a version, let me know!
Finally, here’s Mauritania’s, which makes the north African country sound like one of the most dangerous places on earth (given slavery’s still common there, there might be a hint of truth to that). It was written by a French-Russian musicologist, Tolia Nikiprowetzky, who based it on a traditional song. Its rhythm’s apparently so complicated, it’s nigh on impossible to sing. Every vocal version I’ve heard sounds so weird I’m really not confident putting any on here, sorry.