“Singing [of the anthem] shall be mandatory and must be done with fervour,” the bill says, according to the BBC. Punishment will include a fine of up to 100,000 pesos, which is apparently £1,560/$5,590. Ok, that’s better than the two-weeks in prison that China’s planning, but still: ouch!
Offenders will also be publicly “named and shamed.”
It all seems a bit harsh, especially as the country’s anthem – Chosen Land – is hardly something that can be sung with fervour, since it sounds like a fairground ride being wound into action.
“Chosen land, you are the cradle of the brave,” it goes. “To the conquerors, you shall never win.”
The bill’s still got to be passed by the country’s Senate, so it might not happen, but given the nationalist fervour in the country under new president – and self-confessed murderer – Rodrigo Duterte, I assume it’ll pass. That’s him singing the anthem at the top of the page, by the way. He clearly won’t be fined.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: never trust a country that forces singing of a national anthem!
Yes, my book came out ages ago, but no, that doesn’t mean it’s stopped being reviewed. This month, Nations & Nationalism – the world’s leading journal of nationalism studies – has featured it and, amazingly, they like it:
“An entertaining read that will aid nationalism scholars in considering how myths of everyday nationhood are received and felt of as significant”
Blimey! I thought academics would annihilate it, so the review’s incredibly pleasing to read. That’s only one line of the 800-word review, which also talks a lot about my “innovative research method” (talking to the composers and poets behind anthems), and situates my book in an more academic context making it sound incredibly intellectual!
Huge thanks to Eviane Leidig from Oslo University’s Centre for Research on Extremism for reviewing it.
If any academics read this and want me to come in and chat with their students, get in touch.
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.
Part of the border wall separating Greek from Turkish Cyprus. The graffiti sums up what a lot of people think
This week, the leaders of Greek and Turkish Cyprus began talks to unite the country, which has been divided by a wall – literally – since 1974. That’s part of it above.
Will they succeed? Er… fingers crossed! But if they do, can the United Nations please not pick the country’s new national anthem (the Greek part currently uses Greece’s anthem; the Turkish side, Turkey’s)?
In the early 2000s, Kofi Annan put forward this awful tune to be the country’s anthem as part of a unification plan:
It was rejected by voters, along with the rest of the peace deal, presumably for musical as much as political reasons.
The proposed anthem was wordless, something the UN seems to feel is essential if anthems are to help heal decades of trauma. The logic seems to be that uniting a country is hard enough; forcing words upon people – potentially in a language they don’t understand, and filled with symbolism they disagree with – is going too far. Hopefully the music will be inspiring by itself.
The problem is that wordless anthems don’t help. They just leave a vacuum, which people can sing their old divisions over. Bosnia’s anthem? Wordless. Kosovo’s? Wordless. Spain’s? Wordless. You would hardly call those countries good examples of how to avoid ethnic divisions.
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!
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.
This weekend, an American footballer, Colin Kaepernick, refused to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner. Here is an amazing picture of him 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 (F*ck Donald Trump), which has the benefit of being an utter banger as well as having a message. Enjoy below or, er, give Ray Charles another spin!