Is Spain’s anthem going to finally get words? Don’t be silly!

Last Sunday, Spanish pop star Marta Sanchez caused a sensation in her country by doing something simple: singing her national anthem.

Why was it so special? Because Spain’s anthem doesn’t actually have any words so singing it is a bit hard. Marta added some she’d written herself while homesick in the US.

The performance, above, is powerful stuff, as are her lyrics. “I come home to my beloved homeland, where my heart was born,” she starts. “Today I sing to tell you all the pride I have. My love grows every time I leave.

“Red and yellow, are the colours that shine in my heart,” she went on, referring to Spain’s flag. “God I thank you for being born here… And if someday I can’t come back, save me a place to rest.”

Blimey.

The positive reaction wasn’t just seen in the concert hall. Millions watched clips of her singing it, while politicians also jumped in on the act. Here’s a tweet from the leader of Spain’s main opposition party:

So is her effort going to be adopted? Er, no. Spain’s anthem, adopted in 1770, only ever had lyrics once – under Franco’s dictatorship – and few want to be reminded of those days. The country’s also too divided – see Catalunya’s recent independence referendum – for any to be agreed (are Basques going to be happy singing a song in Castilian?).

A petition to get the anthem lyrics, for instance, has only collected a paltry 12,000 signatures since it was launched in 2015.

How are Europe’s other wordless anthems getting on? Well, San Marino’s is ticking along; Kosovo’s still doesn’t have words – the strangely titled Europe – even as the country celebrates its 10th birthday; and neither does Bosnia’s.

Some Bosnian politicians did begin an initiative this month to give their anthem words, but that looks destined to fail. It’s election year in the country, and no ethnic-Serb politician is going to endorse such a move, since many of their voters actually want their own country or to become part of Serbia.

The website Balkan Insight actually got one Serb politician to basically say just that this month:

“This initiative is nothing more than a circus,” she said. “We have already tried to reach a text for the anthem, and everything has turned into a farce. This time it will be the same.”

If you want to read more about the bizarre stories of Bosnia’s and Kosovo’s anthems, the people behind them, and their significance, then buy my book!

The women who fought for 40 years to change one word

Former Canadian Senators Nancy Ruth and Vivienne Poy – instrumental in making O Canada gender neutral. Credit: Neville Poy

This week, Canada changed the English version of its national anthem to include women as well as men.

“About bloody time!” is the correct response – people have been calling for this since 1980.

To get the full story of the women (and one man) who campaigned for the change for so long, head over to the BBC where I’ve written a *longggg* feature on it.

I’m especially pleased to have had a chance to write about Nancy Ruth (pictured above), a former senator who probably put more energy, money and effort into the campaign than anyone else.

Once on holiday I  met one of Nancy Ruth’s Conservative Party colleagues and mentioned her campaign. His reply? “She’s a lesbian, not a Conservative, and we’re never changing the anthem.”

I’ve never forgotten that, obviously, and it’s a shame I couldn’t put it in the piece (no recording) as it says everything about why it took so long.

Don’t know your anthem? Then you best not be an asylum seeker

Mohammed Al-Mustafa – refused asylum in the UK partly for not knowing his country’s anthem. Copyright: Martin Godwin/The Guardian. Sorry for stealing photos… again

The Guardian’s long followed the case of Mohammed Al-Mustafa, a 36-year-old Palestinian who’s lived in the UK for eight years.

He’s stuck in legal limbo. He applied for asylum, but the government said he was Palestinian so could go home. He tried to – twice – but there’s a problem: he can’t actually leave as he has no Palestinian papers (he left that country age 5, and both his parents died ages ago).

He’s since applied to be declared “stateless”, which would allow him to stay in the UK permanently. But to get that designation, he has to prove he’s Palestinian and apparently the government’s Home Office doesn’t believe him!

For what reasons? Bizarrely, one is the fact he couldn’t sing Palestine’s national anthem when asked. “I know the name of the anthem is al Fida’i, but I didn’t memorise the words and I told them, it’s not about words. We can’t get the country back because of the words,” Al-Mohammed told The Guardian.

What’s going to happen to Mohammed now? God knows.

But a quick note for any Home Office staff reading: although Fida’i is Palestine’s official anthem, many Palestinians consider it a political tune chosen by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation. For them, the anthem would actually be this song, Mawtini:

Oh, and to whoever made the decision: what proportion of Brits actually know all the words to God Save the Queen?

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:

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:

Why China’s national anthem is about to become the world’s most contested song

Hong Kong football fans do not agree with China’s new anthem law!

Back in June, China proposed a law making insulting its national anthem – March of the Volunteers – a criminal offence, subject to 15 days in prison (I wrote about it here).

Well, on Friday it finally went ahead and, ridiculously, passed the thing, as Reuters reports.

The final law is wider than the original proposal. Playing the anthem is now banned “as background music and in advertisements,” as well as at funerals, weddings and “on other inappropriate occasions”. You could be locked up if you “distort” or “mock” it, the law goes on.

Those attending public events must stand to attention and sing in a solemn manner when the anthem is played, it says.

By my reckoning, this means blokes in their bedrooms doing rock covers like the one below are now fugitives:

Please hide him if you can!

More importantly, expect China’s anthem to soon be sung far more frequently in Hong Kong – in entirely disrespectful ways. And expect Hong Kong’s football fans to continue their long practice of booing it whenever it’s played. When you pass draconian laws like this, you don’t tend to get the outcome you expected.

Update: The South China Morning Post has some interviews with Hong Kong football fans here, saying they’ll continue ignoring it. “I won’t stand up [when the national anthem is played, because I do not have a sense of belonging [to China],” Ricky Wong Ka-ki told them.

If Ricky is locked up, China’s anthem overnight becomes the world’s most controversial song.

Sing the Philippines’ anthem with fervour or get fined!

“A little bit of Monica in my liffffeeeeee…”

Where China goes, the Philippines follows! Just days after Chinese politicians started discussing a bill to jail anyone who “abuses” their national anthem, Filipino politicians have started discussing one that’s mightily similar.

“Singing [of the anthem] shall be mandatory and must be done with fervour,” the bill says, according to the BBC. Punishment will include a fine of up to 100,000 pesos, which is apparently £1,560/$5,590. Ok, that’s better than the two-weeks in prison that China’s planning, but still: ouch!

Offenders will also be publicly “named and shamed.”

It all seems a bit harsh, especially as the country’s anthem – Chosen Land – is hardly something that can be sung with fervour, since it sounds like a fairground ride being wound into action.

“Chosen land, you are the cradle of the brave,” it goes. “To the conquerors, you shall never win.”

The bill’s still got to be passed by the country’s Senate, so it might not happen, but given the nationalist fervour in the country under new president – and self-confessed murderer – Rodrigo Duterte, I assume it’ll pass. That’s him singing the anthem at the top of the page, by the way. He clearly won’t be fined.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: never trust a country that forces singing of a national anthem!