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!

Update: Argh, they’ve changed it! I am very sad 😦

Why Gambia’s president should listen to his anthem

Jammeh inspecting his police

Gambia’s in crisis, if you’ve missed the news, with its president, Yahya Jammeh, refusing to end his 22-year rule despite having lost an election and even admitted doing so. He’s got the army’s backing. Things don’t look like they’re going to end prettily.

But on the plus side, this does give me a chance to look at the country’s national anthem!

The bad point? It’s awful! It was written by the country’s former British administrator, Sir Jeremy Howe, with lyrics by his wife. Which is why it doesn’t sound very Gambian. In fact, it sounds more suited to the Yorkshire Dales than tropical Africa.

But there is one good point in light of the current crisis: the lyrics.

For the Gambia, our homeland
We strive and work and pray
That all may live in unity
Freedom and peace each day
Let justice guide our action
Towards the common good
And join our diverse peoples
To prove man’s brotherhood
We pledge our firm allegiance
Our promise we renew
Keep us, great God of nations
To The Gambia ever true

Jammeh seems to be ignoring every word of that. Here’s hoping he listens soon.

True soul music

Soul Music

The BBC’s brilliant Soul Music programme recently profiled Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – the great anti-apartheid hymn that’s now part of South Africa’s national anthem; undeniably one of the most important songs ever written.

I, er, very stupidly managed to talk myself out of being part of the programme when they were researching it this summer, so it’s nice to hear they still made a fantastic programme without me – although I do disagree with the view that Enoch Sontonga stole the tune from a Welsh hymn!

I really recommend you head here now to listen, then pick up my book to learn even more about it, especially its somewhat contentious meaning today.

The mystery behind Kenya’s national anthem


Kenya has that rarest of anthems: one that actually sounds like the country it comes from! It’s a tune you could imagine gazelles running to or Maasai singing in villages.

Yes, it’s a bit “cliched” Africa – how many Maasai aren’t using cell phones and listening to rap these days? – but it’s better than most of Africa’s anthems, which sound like they were written by an vicar after a walk through the English countryside.

If you go online – Wikipedia, for instance – it tells you that music was written by a committee headed by an English musicologist, Graham Hyslop.

But this week, Kenyan media was dominated by reports of the death of the actual composer, a 96-year-old, Mzee Galana Meza (pictured below). He died in poverty without any recognition from the government. It’s an outrage, the newspapers screamed.

Mzee Galana Meza

There is one problem; it’s hard to work out if Meza did compose it. As he told the story, in 1963, Hyslop visited his village and asked for folk tunes. Meza sang him seven and only discovered one was chosen to be the anthem when he heard someone singing it after independence.

So did Meza write it? I haven’t the faintest idea. For all I know, it was a melody that’d been sung for 100s of years. But even if he didn’t, surely he deserves a mention in the song’s history? Someone update Wikipedia now!

Farewell to Africa’s only cowboy

Abbe Marc Barengayabo, composer of Burundi's national anthem

Marc Barengayabo, the composer of Burundi’s national anthem (pictured), didn’t seem to realise he came from a landlocked country in the middle of Africa.

Just take a listen to his anthem. It’s the sort of tune someone could only write if they spent their days dreaming of cowboys and kung fu movies.

It starts off normally enough, a military march like many of the world’s anthems. But 18 seconds in, it suddenly turns into the soundtrack to a Bruce Lee film. Then the percussion starts clopping, and the strings start swaying, and it changes again, sounding like a cowboy lolloping into town on a worn-out horse.

I always wanted to ask Marc what on earth he was thinking about when he wrote it. Why he thought this tune would inspire the people of Burundi to build a new nation.

Unfortunately, I’ll never get the chance. He’s just died, aged 79.

If you want to read about him, there’s an obituary here. It doesn’t mention if he composed any other pieces, or if he was actually obsessed with films. But it does contain this amazing statement from his government: “The Government of Burundi implore the Almighty to grant [Marc] ample reward for loyal service to the Catholic Church and his country, and welcome him to his vast Paradise.”