The Paralympics – more anthems than the Olympics (including some words on Trinidad and Tobago’s)

Australia on their way to winning gold at the wheelchair rugby. Always an amazing sport to watch

Ouch! Australia on their way to winning gold at the wheelchair rugby

If you watched the Paralympics, you might have noticed something. No, not that wheelchair rugby is an incredibly violent sport. But that the countries that won gold are hugely different to the Olympics winners.

Some 63 countries took that medal, four more than at the Olympics, and 17 of those didn’t win one gold a month ago, and that includes such giants (in population terms) as India, Egypt and Nigeria. What does that mean? Well, it probably says a lot about the lack of money in the Paralympics meaning there’s a more equal playing field, but, in the context of this national anthem-obsessed blog, it means only one thing: that people got to hear 17 anthems for the first time this year!

Many of those anthems I’ve written about on here or in my book. They range from greats like Algeria’s (the only anthem to mention machine guns) to the controversial like Iraq’s, the much loved like Malaysia’s, to the plain naughty like Mexico’s (the only anthem written out of lust).

But there were a few that I haven’t written about, of which one sticks out: Trinidad and Tobago’s.

What’s interesting about Forged From the Love of Liberty that makes it worth choosing? Musically? Nothing. And lyrically? Nothing either!

But there are two reasons it’s interesting. Firstly, it was originally written as the anthem of the West Indies Federation, which lasted from 1958 to 1962, and was an attempt to almost create one country in the Caribbean. Its author Patrick Castagne made his song vague enough to appeal to everyone, with lines about all the islands “side by side…our hearts joined across the sea.” But when the federation collapsed he didn’t decide to just let it disappear to history, he tweaked it to make it work for Trinidad and Tobago instead. He was somehow awarded $5,000 for those three minutes of work.

It’s the only anthem I know of that’s been rewritten in that way (Russia’s used to the be the anthem of the Soviet Union, but I think this is more dramatic).

The second thing that’s interesting is Patrick himself. Patrick wasn’t just an anthem writer. He also wrote calypsos, including this great tune, Ice Man for someone called Lord Melody.

I wonder if Akeem Stewart – the Trinidadian Paralympian who won gold in the javelin at the Paralympics and silver in the discus – would have preferred to have heard some calypso on the podium instead of his anthem. If you know him, please ask.

What’s love? Knowing when your fiancé needs locking in a room!

Kathy Bates in Misery, hammer scene

If you’re looking for music to play this Valentine’s Day, forget the romantic classics, what you need is Mexico’s national anthem.

Okay, the music isn’t exactly something you can dance close to, and the lyrics are a bit inappropriate (“Let other nations’ banners be soaked in waves of blood”), but the story behind it is a perfect fit.

Francisco González Bocanegra was a young poet when the Mexican government launched a competition for an anthem in 1853.

He had no interest in entering. His days were filled with gazing at his fiancée, Pili, and writing her poems. Francisco was sure his words were so beautiful, they’d become known worldwide: men would read them to wives, boys use them to chat-up girls, even priests read them to congregations.

He didn’t have time to write a song for Mexico, he told Pili. Plus, Mexico had just lost half its territory to America. It was hardly a place to be romantic about.

But Pili believed that if anyone could write a poem for her country, it was Francisco. And so one day, she whispered in his ear at the kitchen table in her parents’ house, dragged him upstairs and along a corridor to a secluded bedroom.

There the couple paused at the door and Pili leaned up to Francisco, kissing him more passionately than she’d ever done. She reached to unbutton his shirt but then suddenly pushed him into the room, slammed the door shut and locked him in. “You can come out when you’ve written me an anthem,” she shouted, and went back downstairs.

Francisco looked around to find himself in the least romantic room imaginable; Pili had plastered it with paintings of Mexican military victories, of soldiers with bayonets and piles of dead Spaniards.

Four hours later, he slipped ten bloodthirsty verses under the door. They were chosen as the anthem within days.

I don’t have the faintest idea how long Francisco and Pili’s marriage lasted. But there’s a lesson here for you, dear readers; if any of you have someone you truly love, lock them in a room whenever you want something.*

* Please do not take this seriously!

Making swimmers cry


I’ve finally heard some anthems in person at the Olympics! Well, the Paralympics at least. And it turns out the easiest way to make an athlete cry is to get 18,000 people to badly sing along to their national tune.

Last night, the swimming arena had a 16-year-old American, Ian Silverman, in tears, and also managed to set-off 23-year-old Frenchwoman Elodie Lorandi.

The British crowd didn’t know all the words to either the Star-Spangled Banner or la Marseillaise, but bellowing the tunes seemed to work just as well.

I’m sure they could have had several Chinese and Ukranian swimmers crying their eyes out too if they’d known their anthems better.

Clearly, most of the athletes were on the verge of tears anyway, but it really seemed like the singing acted as the tipping point.

At the top of this post is a photo of 18-year-old Mexican swimmer Gustavo Martinez getting his gold. He didn’t cry, but then he had the quietest medal ceremony – unsurprising as last night was probably the first time most people had heard Mexico’s anthem. Also, Gustavo likes listening to Queen, and Mexico’s Himno Nacional unfortunately sounds nothing like We Will Rock You.