The world’s most terrifying national anthem is under threat!

“Be a helper for Godddddd…” Darth sings Mauritania’s national anthem

This is Mauritania’s national anthem. Yes, it makes Mauritania sound terrifying – the sort of country that if you ever visited, you wouldn’t escape. It’s more suitable for the Death Star than an African country.

Which is why it’s fantastic and why it’s worrying to hear it might be changed.

The country’s president, Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, is in the middle of altering Mauritania’s constitution, I assume so he can rule FOREVER. As part of this, he also wants to change Mauritania’s national symbols, primarily adding two red stripes to its green flag for some reason (maybe he likes colour contrasts).

But according to this piece (in French), he also wants to overhaul its anthem. The article doesn’t explain how he’ll do that and no one seems to know. Today, I called Mauritanian’s embassy here in the UK and the ambassador said it was, “Only talking now. No ideas!”

So there we go: Mauritania could soon go from having one of the world’s best national anthems, to one of the worst. It could go from having an anthem that calls on all Mauritanians to “walk the path of God and die on it” to one that simply praises their president. Or, er, it could stay as it is. I hope it’s the final option. I may set up a petition!

A warning to anyone visiting India: stand for their anthem!

People standing for the anthem in a New Delhi cinema. This photo's stolen from Chandan Khanna of Agence France-Presse. Sorry, Chandan!

People standing for the anthem in a New Delhi cinema. This photo’s stolen from Chandan Khanna of Agence France-Presse. Sorry, Chandan!

What the hell’s going on in India? A quick timeline of recent events:

  • 2002: Shyam Narayan Chouksey, a retired engineer, goes to his local cinema in Bhopal to watch some Bollywood. During the film, India’s national anthem is played during a scene at a school fete so Shyam stands up to respect it. No one else does – most shout at Shyam to sit down as he’s obscuring their view – so Shyam stages a protest, then starts filing court orders to try and get people to respect the anthem. Everyone assumes Shyam will soon be forgotten by history (Shyam’s full story is here)
  • 30 November 2016: India’s Supreme Court – responding to one of Shyam’s many complaints – rules that all cinemas must play the anthem before screenings and keep doors shut so no one can interrupt it. Everyone inside must stand
  • 10 December 2016: India’s Supreme Court realises it’s gone slightly too far and allows disabled people to remain seated during the anthem. It also clarifies that it didn’t mean for cinemas to lock people inside during the anthem. That is a fire risk, after all
  • 13 December 2016: Indian police arrest 12 people for not standing for the anthem!!! Most of the arrests are at a film festival and the attendees stayed sitting so as not to lose their seats, although others were actually people protesting the new law

India, if I can address you for a moment:

This

Is

Insane!

You don’t force people to be patriotic. Your country should be inspiring enough that people want to stand for your anthem without needing a law to tell them to. How many other countries have such laws? None! Well, maybe North Korea, but you get my point; this isn’t a sensible thing to have done.

Have some self-confidence, and get this ruling overturned. And when Shyam files his next petition, try to ignore it!

Why there needs to be more Black Lives Matter anthem protests

This weekend, an American footballer, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. Here is an amazing picture of him sitting:

kaepernick sitting

Which apparently makes for huge news in the States, especially after he said this afterwards:

I am not going to stand up to show pride for a country that oppresses black people and people of colour. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting away with murder.

I was genuinely shocked when I heard the news. Not because of what Kaepernick did, but because he’s the first.

The Star-Spangled Banner is something I’ve been expecting Black Lives Matter supporters to have long used in protests or to have protested against. I mean, “the land of the free and the home of the brave”? That hardly seems to ring true at this moment, does it? I’ve also long been expecting an athlete – black or otherwise – to realise the symbolic importance of the anthem. I was sure one would do something during an Olympic medal ceremony.

[Kaepernick turns out to have been doing this for a few games without anyone realising, so maybe others have, but…]

Another potential flashpoint is the song’s third verse which talks about how “no refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave”. Those lines are referring to the Americans defeating British soldiers, who included a handful of ex-slave regiments. Some commentators are now looking at those words as meaning the anthem’s racist, especially as its author was a slave owner although, personally, I think that’s going too far. (The songwriter, Francis Scott Key, was a lawyer who tried to free slaves as well as keeping them, so his history’s complex, and the anthem is a vehemently anti-British song, not an anti-black one. Then there’s the fact no one realised there was a third verse until recently!).

So, why has it taken so long? I worry it’s because being labelled “unpatriotic” in the US has become so stigmatising – far more so than in other countries – that tackling the anthem is seen as too risky. That shouldn’t be the case. National anthems are there mainly to unite and inspire, yes, but they’re also there to reflect a nation – and that means they can and should be used to criticise it.

Kaepernick is in a long line of people who’ve used anthems to make political points (see my book to learn about the many Japanese who use theirs to protest right-wing politics, for instance, or just think of Hendrix doing his Star-Spangled Banner covers). I hope he’s not the last.

Kaepernick’s protest did make me realise one other thing: I haven’t written about Lift Every Voice and Sing, the so-called Black National Anthem, on this blog. The words were written back in 1900 for a group of school children, which probably explains why its message is so clear:

Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring
Ring with the harmonies of liberty

It was given a tune in 1905, but didn’t take on its current status until 1919 when the NAACP – the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People – named it the “negro national anthem” and started pushing it. Here’s an amazing video of Ray Charles singing it in 1972:

Is it right for now? The message, yes. But, musically, obviously not. I’m also the sort of person who thinks every protest movement should write its own music.

The best black American protest song I’ve heard lately is YG and Nipsey Hussle’s FDT (Fuck Donald Trump), which has the benefit of being an utter banger as well as having a message few would argue with. Enjoy below or, er, give Ray Charles another spin!

Olympic anthem of the day #1: Brazil’s!

"O beloved homeland..." - Paulinho da Silva singing his beautiful samba anthem

“O beloved homeland…” – Paulinho da Viola singing his samba anthem

At last night’s Opening Ceremony, a samba musician called Paulinho da Viola sung the most beautiful version of Brazil’s national anthem – making it seem as delicate as patriotism itself.

You should hear it as soon as you can. Billboard has a brief clip here and here’s the BBC’s stream (the anthem starts at 28:30).

But as wonderful as that was, you should be praying Brazil’s anthem gets played at the Games many more times, for two reasons:

1) Its intro, which spirals upwards, getting faster and faster, as if trying to force you to your feet. Brazil’s is one of the great, rambunctious, operatic anthems of South America. Its composer, Francisco Manuel da Silva, was so obsessed with Italian opera (he set up an academy for it in Rio) it’s no surprise he mimicked its style.

2) Because if it is played, Brazilians will carry on singing it long after the music’s been stopped, creating the most powerful, inspiring sound of the Games. They did it during the World Cup as the below recording shows, so why not at the Olympics too?

Is there any hope it’ll get an airing? Apparently so. Look out for Mayra Aguiar in the women’s -78kg judo category, which gets going around Aug. 11. She got bronze in London 2012 and will be seeking revenge here.

 

Louis Armstrong plays the Star-Spangled Banner

Beyond awesome.

Happy independence day, America!