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:

In praise of the new Kaepernicks

Cleveland Browns players forming an anthem-rejecting prayer circle. I think I stole this photo from Getty. I usually do. Sorry, Getty!

Last year, an American footballer called Colin Kaepernick got – rightfully – a lot of praise after he refused to stand for the US national anthem before games as part of a Black Lives Matter protest (I wrote about it a lot on here, as this, this and even this post prove).

Kaepernick’s travails since, including failing to get a team this season, have been widely documented worldwide. (Update: The Washington Post has published a great profile of the man – The Making of Colin Kaepernick – that’s well worth your time). But what isn’t getting anywhere near the attention it should be outside the US right now is that A LOT of other footballers have taken his stance and run with it.

Right now, in the sport’s pre-season, it seems like every team has at least one person protesting the anthem. There’s players kneeling and praying (see the Cleveland Browns in the photo). There’s guys taking a kneeothers sitting alone, some raising fists. They include everyone from Super Bowl champions to nobodies.

Colin Kaepernick’s become enough of a name that journalists outside the US can write about him happily, but people should realise he’s not the only one using the Star-Spangled Banner in a way that it has been for decades – to try and hold a mirror back at a country. Let’s give them their due.

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.

Colin Kaepernick’s standing for his anthem again :(

This is Colin Kaepernick after being tackled, but it sums up how I’m feeling about his decision! Credit: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

American footballer Colin Kaepernick has announced he will stand for the US national anthem next season, ending his months-long protest against the treatment of minorities in the country.

I know it’s because he needs a job – the San Francisco 49ers have decided not to keep him on – but it’s a shame. You could easily argue things have got worse in the US since his protest started and it’s needed more than ever.

Expect fewer protests all round soon: the US soccer association has announced a new policy saying all players have to “stand respectfully” for anthems at international matches. Last year, Megan Rapinoe kneeled for the Star-Spangled Banner before two games – aping Kaepernick. Guess she won’t any more.

Being a beauty queen’s more dangerous than you thought

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Back in 2014,  Merve Buyuksarac, Ms Turkey 2006, posted a satirical rewording of her country’s national anthem to her Instagram account. She changed a handful of its words to reference a corruption scandal involving the country’s president, Tayyip Erdoğan.

I am like a wild flood, I smash over the law and beyond
I follow state bids, take my bribe and live.

Almost immediately afterwards she was arrested.

This May – two years later! – she was found guilty of insulting the president and sentenced to 14 months in prison. The sentence was only suspended on the condition that she doesn’t insult Erdoğan again in the next five years.

Yes, I should have written about this back in May when it happened, but I somehow only learned about it yesterday while reading about Erdoğan’s crackdown on journalists in his country. He’s jailed 120 so far.

I’ve never heard of someone being sentenced to prison for satirising an anthem before, which isn’t a surprise as if it was a common occurence they’d be literally hundreds of offenders in jail. Imagine how many people have rewritten the words to God Save the Queen and the Star-Spangled Banner.

Turkey’s anthem, the Independence March, turns up surprisingly regular in the country’s political life. People used it frequently earlier this year during the coup that was trying to remove Erdoğan, seeing it as a way to motivate people to get onto the streets, while it also played a major part in the country’s last presidential election.

But this? This is just a disgrace.

For details of more controversial anthems, see my book.

The most beautiful piano playing about the world’s most violent country

A tribute to a dead protester in Caracas, Venezuela. Copyright is Reuters

A tribute to a dead protester in Caracas, Venezuela. Copyright is Reuters

There were 24,000 murders in Venezuela last year. That’s 65 a day – an almost cartoonish level of violence.

It says something’s seriously wrong there, regardless of what benefits you think Hugo Chavez brought to the country’s poor before he died, or whether you support his successor, Nicolas Maduro.

The violence partly explains the ongoing demonstrations in Caracas, in which three students died earlier this month.

It also partly explains why the pianist Gabriela Montero spends a lot of her time recording protest versions of the country’s national anthem.

Gloria al Bravo Pueblo – Glory to the Brave People – is normally described as a Latin American version of the Marseillaise, a proud military march that spirals to a cymbal crashing ending.

But what Gabriela turns it into is something far more powerful and worth your time. Here’s just three of her takes on it.

In the first two, she makes the anthem sound like the song of a heart-broken lover, one who can barely hold their emotions together long enough to get to the end.

But in the third, she turns it into something altogether different: a fiery tango and a theme song for cacerolazos – those protests where everyone bangs pots and pans to wake up corrupt politicians. It is 100% fantastic.

[For anyone reading on a mobile, you can find the videos here, here and here]

Gabriela’s playing concerts in Germany, Italy, the UK, Serbia, Canada and the US in the next few weeks. Go along. Her full schedule’s here.

Never mind the bollocks, here’s the Maltese Sex Pistol!

Vince Fabri, the Maltese Sex Pistol

He’s 54, looks like an accountant and normally writes songs about checking his horoscope over breakfast, but Vince Fabri (pictured) could just be the most punk musician in Europe.

A few days ago, Vince loaded a parody of Malta’s national anthem onto his Facebook page, apparently annoying half of the Mediterranean island in the process.

“O Lord,” he wrote, taking the anthem’s opening words, “do not look upon this whore of a land, this mother who now sells herself. Let us make some money.”

Within five minutes people were leaving messages calling him a traitor, demanding a public apology and, oddly, saying he couldn’t have committed a bigger crime if he’d tried.

Why’d he do it? Disappointingly it wasn’t a tribute to the Sex Pistols’ God Save the Queen. Instead, Vince is angry with the Maltese government’s latest moneymaking plan: to sell passports to anyone who wants one.

All someone will soon have to do is pay the government €1.15 million, promise they haven’t committed any war crimes and that they don’t have any infectious diseases, and then a golden passport is theirs. (No, I’m not sure why having AIDS is as equal barrier to citizenship as committing ethnic cleansing, but those are the rules!)

The government’s hoping to raise at least €900m from the scheme, which suggests there’s 783 people out there who desperately want to become Maltese.

Vince is a councillor for the country’s main opposition party, so his parody’s largely been dismissed as a cynical political move. But full marks for effort, and for showing that toying with an anthem can still anger a lot of people.

As a bonus, here’s a brilliant pop opera version of the anthem by Maltese celebrity Enzo Gusman. I don’t speak Maltese, but I’m pretty sure there are no whores mentioned!