Paraguay: national operas

Sometimes, you just have to get straight to the music.

Below is Argentina’s barnstorming national anthem, the one that forced the rest of the continent to go operatic with their anthems. You’ll know the first 52 seconds, and that’s because they’re fantastic.

Below are the rest of South America’s major anthems, all of which keep the fun, absurdity, passion and campness of Argentina’s and run with it as far as they can.

The Brazilian and Chilean anthems are recordings from recent football matches because their fans have taken to carrying on singing long after the music has stopped, and it’s bizarrely exciting.

The only anthem really missing from that list is Venezuela’s. I’ve done that because it’s not as vibrant as the others, but also because the pianist Gabriela Montero regularly records improvisations on it to protest the situation in her country, all of which are far better than the actual thing.

Below’s one of hers played alongside a saucepan, which are traditionally banged at street protests, but this funereal one – himno moribundo – is also fantastic.

Oh, there are a couple of other anthems I’ve missed out: Paraguay’s and Uruguay’s. But leaving them until now was kind of deliberate since they’re the focus of this chapter, both written by the same people: the poet Francisco Acuña de Figueroa and the composer Francisco José Debali.

Uruguay’s – Orientals, the fatherland or the grave! – came first and here’s a video of the people of Montevideo singing it for you, which I made while out there. It’ll hopefully give you an idea of the anthem’s ever-changing rhythm and its wonderful sense of fun.

The full version lasts over four minutes, and the 19th century celebrity composer Gottschalk liked it so much he wrote a fantasia riffing off of it.

I think it’s a great piece of music, but most musicologists just moan that Debali might have copied it from Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia. Here’s a comparison of the two thanks to the Uruguayan composer Coriún Aharonián who features in the book (p294-5) and whose music you should check out.

There are also similarities between the anthem and one of Beethoven’s sonatas too so, er, maybe Debali copied that? God, I don’t know!

After writing Uruguay’s anthem, Debali and Acuña de Figueroa ended up writing Paraguay’s too – known brilliantly as Republic or Death. Yes, it is the song that gave the book this title. Yes, you will have to read page 280 to find out why I did that and didn’t name it after God Save the Queen instead.

I unfortunately haven’t got a decent audio recording of people singing the anthem so, apologies, but you’re going to have to rely on my videos again. Firstly, here’s the whole thing played by Paraguay’s National Congress Symphony Orchestra, and conducted by the wonderful Diego Sánchez Haase.

And here’s the chorus sung by various people I met in Paraguay, everywhere from the capital Asuncion to the old Jesuit village of Santa Maria de Fe:

That probably is where I should end this guide, but I do mention in the chapter some other songs that people would prefer as their countries’ anthems. In Paraguay, several people suggested Patria Querida (Beloved Homeland):

In Uruguay, one specific alternative was mentioned and I really recommend you read pages 300-304 to learn both about that country’s history and why this song, which sounds like a simple indie tune, could mean so much to someone.

Go to the epilogue