Olympic anthem of the day #10: Bahrain! Or should it be Kenya?

Ruth Jebet wins the steeplechase at the Rio Olympics

Bahrain won its first ever gold this week when 19-year-old Ruth Jebet won the steeplechase. Which, of course, means an Olympic crowd got to hear Bahrain’s anthem for the first time too. Hurrah!

That tune is perhaps the best example of the Arab fanfare style of anthem you could wish to stumble across. It’s jolly. It’s quick. And it’s so short it’s over before it begun. Although that length does mean the only thing people are actually likely to remember about it is its name – the Bahrainona! – and that’s largely because it sounds like a wrestler’s.

But should it have actually been played? Jebet was born in Kenya, and has been a Bahrain national for just three years. The emirate, presumably, offered her a shedload of cash to change nationality.

On one level, it’s hard to argue with her choice. Jebet’s said the reason she made the move is this: “There are so many athletes in Kenya. In Bahrain I get the chance to go to school.” But, well, it leaves me uneasy. And if it does you too, I suggest you join me in listening to Kenya’s anthem right this minute as the poorest form of protest imaginable!

Kenya’s anthem’s called O God of All Creation – Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu in Swahili – and it’s that rarest of national anthems: one that actually sounds like the place it comes from rather than a British hymn.

It’s beautiful too and sticks far longer in the memory than any part of the, er…. What was Bahrain’s anthem called again?

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!

Voting for a president based on The Star-Spangled Banner

The Star-Spangled Banner has finally – finally! – made an appearance in the US presidential race.

Unfortunately, it’s not been raised by either Obama or Romney, but by a pensioner from DeMotte, Indiana, named Berlin Wyman.

Berlin recently wrote into his local paper, The Times of Indiana, with the stunning observation that “if Olympians can sing the anthem, why can’t Obama?”

“Isn’t it a shame that our president can only stand and look bored while the anthem is being played,” he wrote. “If you plan on voting for him in November, I suggest instead you accompany him to Kenya and salute their anthem.”

Berlin hasn’t received the best feedback for his comments. But his letter does raise an important point: how should fans of The Star-Spangled Banner vote in the coming election?

The picture below explains why Berlin would say Romney. Taken in 2007, it shows Obama failing to sing the anthem while it’s being played, and worse, failing to put his hand on his heart. The fact no one else is singing, because they’re listening to a professional off-stage, seems by-the-by. As does the fact the photo’s five years old.

But should Berlin really think better of Romney? Romney may always boom out the anthem, but he doesn’t seem to know much about its history. Here’s a video of him from February claiming that America’s the only country where people put their hand on their heart when singing their anthem, and that President Roosevelt created the gesture “in honour of the blood that was being shed by our sons and daughters in far off places.”

Neither point’s true. The hand-on-heart gesture was apparently adopted in the 1940s to stop Americans making one that looked like a Nazi salute.

Perhaps Berlin should vote for neither candidate. He could always look instead to the many independents running. Although somehow I doubt he’d pick the Peace and Freedom Party’s Roseanne Barr.