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!

One violinist, one anthem and a wall of riot police

Wuilly Arteaga playing Venezuela’s national anthem at a protest in Caracas in May. I’ve stolen this from Luis Robayo and Agence France-Presse/Getty Images. It’s too shocking not to

There was a brilliant story in The New York Times recently about Venezuela’s ongoing anti-government protests and how they’ve embroiled the country’s classical musicians. It was focused on the death of a viola player, Armando Cañizales, who walked alone towards a line of soldiers:

“He said nothing as he advanced, arms outstretched, palms facing up.

“Then the fatal shots rang out.”

Why’s this tragedy relevant to a blog on national anthems? Because Venezuela’s anthem – Glory to the Brave People – is regularly sung and played by protesters at home and abroad, trying to show they really represent the country. Iit’s been played especially since Armando’s death. Here’s one example from that New York Times story:

“On a recent afternoon, [Armando’s friend] Wuilly Arteaga, 23, stood in the centre of a crowd of demonstrators, his violin on his shoulder. His case was strapped to his back, his helmet painted with the colours of the Venezuelan flag. He played the national anthem.

“Explosions of tear gas canisters erupted between the notes he played. Finally, other protesters grabbed him by a shoulder and dragged him back from the security forces.

“‘I remembered my friend Armando,’ Mr. Arteaga said afterward. ‘I have spent ages now playing and living on the streets, and I see that so many talented Venezuelans have had to eat from the trash.'”

Read the whole article now. It’s a great piece of journalism. It’s a shame it’s such sad reading.

Canada’s never going to change its anthem to include women, is it?

“We may not be in our anthem, but we will still paint the Maple Leaf all over us!”

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll know that for almost four years, I’ve been writing about Canadian politicians’ attempts to change just two words of their national anthem so it includes women. A line about “in all our sons” was going to become “in all of us.”

Here’s a story from 2013 about it. And here’s one from 2016. And here’s one from earlier this year if you haven’t had enough! I’ve written God knows how many newspaper articles about the row too.

The change was meant to finally be agreed in time for Canada’s 150th anniversary this month. But has it happened? Has it f**k!

According to this great article in The National Post: “Senators who disagree with the [bill to change the anthem] are not only moving amendments that have no hope of being approved, but are also moving sub-amendments and calling adjournment votes to delay proceedings.

“Last week, Conservative Senator Tobias Enverga moved an amendment to instead change the words in question to ‘in all of our command,’ on the dubious basis that this wording was grammatically superior to [the proposal], and that the word ‘us’ is divisive.

“Any amendments brought forward could essentially kill the legislation.”

Bloody hell!

This whole charade really is the perfect example of how much anthems stir up nationalist feelings, and how some people will never let traditions be changed – even by two words. It really does show both anthems’ importance and their absurdity.

Don’t expect the proposal to disappear, though. This is the tenth time Canadian politicians have tried to make the change since 1980. Another attempt will be along soon enough.

Dear Cyprus, please unite around a different anthem

Part of the border wall separating Greek from Turkish Cyprus. The graffiti sums up what a lot of people think

Part of the border wall separating Greek from Turkish Cyprus. The graffiti sums up what a lot of people think

This week, the leaders of Greek and Turkish Cyprus began talks to unite the country, which has been divided by a wall – literally – since 1974. That’s part of it above.

Will they succeed? Er… fingers crossed! But if they do, can the United Nations please not pick the country’s new national anthem (the Greek part currently uses Greece’s anthem; the Turkish side, Turkey’s)?

In the early 2000s, Kofi Annan put forward this awful tune to be the country’s anthem as part of a unification plan:

It was rejected by voters, along with the rest of the peace deal, presumably for musical as much as political reasons.

The proposed anthem was wordless, something the UN seems to feel is essential if anthems are to help heal decades of trauma. The logic seems to be that uniting a country is hard enough; forcing words upon people – potentially in a language they don’t understand, and filled with symbolism they disagree with – is going too far. Hopefully the music will be inspiring by itself.

The problem is that wordless anthems don’t help. They just leave a vacuum, which people can sing their old divisions over. Bosnia’s anthem? Wordless. Kosovo’s? Wordless. Spain’s? Wordless. You would hardly call those countries good examples of how to avoid ethnic divisions.

For more on wordless anthems, see my book. It has a whole chapter on them.