What should London’s anthem be?

If it goes independent, obviously. And who knows post-Brexit?!?

London Calling?

West End Girls?

Dizzee Rascal’s Fix Up, Look Sharp?

“Er… What?” I hear you say. Yes, Dizzee would be a strange choice. But he’s mine, and for a good reason, which you can learn by listening to Adrian Lacey’s great London Podcast at his site, via iTunes or here if you’re using Android.

I’ve never been asked the question before, which is surprising given so many cities, at least in the US, have anthems.

Adrian gave me one of the best podcast experiences I’ve had, taking me back to my childhood school in the London suburbs to stand in pouring rain (that wasn’t his fault) and explain where my love of music came from, doing a full, fascinating interview about the book, and even getting me to do a reading.

In the episode, he also goes out on London’s streets to ask people what their anthem would be. And he tells a brilliant story about his (white, lower-middle class, British) parents trying to write Nigeria’s anthem when it became independent.

It’s a real fun and interesting listen. And few podcast presenters go to such efforts, so, seriously, head here to hear it.

Adrian’s done some amazing other podcasts on everything from the Fire of London to Bob Marley’s London home, so check out other episodes if you can. Huge thanks to him if he’s reading.

Things you shouldn’t do while giving a talk on BBC radio

  1. Start by basically saying, “Hello ladeez!”
  2. Make a joke about the IRA
  3. Sing
  4. Simplify the Ukraine-Russia conflict to such a point it makes it seem like you’re taking Russia’s side
  5. Sing some more
  6. Offend everyone in Cornwall
  7. Announce you have a pasty chest

With all that in mind, here’s a talk I did about nationalism that’s just been broadcast as part of Radio 4’s excellent Four Thought programme.

It’s a bit different from my usual book chat, but if you’d like some of that instead I was also on Monocle magazine’s Weekly show this week and you can listen here.

It features lots of really great questions about foreign policy, which is nice and they also say some lovely things about my book, which is even nicer!

I’m on from 13 minutes and straight afterwards is an amazing interview with the founder of Mubi, and there’s also a brilliant one about hip-hop and fashion to round things off. Basically, listen to it all, and then subscribe as, like Four Thought, it’s always an amazing listen.

Finally, yesterday, I did my first ever book talk! A proper one. Like for an hour and everything. It was a lot of fun, even the bits when I seemed to end up DJing national anthems, and seemed to go down really well so drop me a line if you’d like me to do one for you too. Call the Newham Bookshop (who booked it) or the Wanstead Tap (who hosted it) if you want an objective review!

I’m next at Birmingham Waterstones on 26 November, 7pm, in case any of you are nearby. Come! Singing not obligatory!

Me writing about a Paraguayan newspaper writing about me writing about Paraguay!

Paraguayan newspaper writing about me

Since my book’s out soon, the Guardian asked me to write their ‘A great little place I know…‘ column this week about somewhere memorable from my travels researching anthems.

I did think about using it to plug the great Coffeedelia in Almaty, one of the few places in Kazakhstan that didn’t make me ill. But instead went for the amazing Museo del Barro in Asuncion, which you all should visit as soon as you can.

The best part of getting to write about it, though, was learning that the article has made it to Paraguay, as it turns out there are now Paraguayans writing about me writing about them. So if you’d like to learn exactly why you should go to the Museo del Barro, I suggest you don’t head to the Guardian, but instead visit La Nacion newspaper and use Google Translate!

Meanwhile, to all the Paraguayans suddenly visiting this site, ¡Gracias por su visita! Su país es bonito y su himno es fascinante! Y compre mi libro! ; )

All I want for Christmas is a video of some Paraguayans singing their national anthem

I recently visited Paraguay to research its amazing, and amazingly named, national anthem, Republic or Death. While there, I also forced some poor people to sing it for me. The results are astounding, I’m sure you’ll agree.

That clip only features the anthem’s chorus as the full song lasts three minutes and I wasn’t going to make people sing for that long. I’m not a sadist! Fortunately, one of the country’s leading orchestras did play it in its entirety for me. The start and ending are brilliant.

Thanks to everyone involved, especially Maesto Haase’s National Congress Symphony Orchestra and the staff of the Santa Maria de Fe Hotel in Misiones (a place I recommend you all stay at).

To anyone from Uruguay reading, a clip of people singing your anthem’s coming soon, don’t worry (or do if you know you’re in it!).

República o Muerte se va a casa!

A few years ago, when I came up with the idea of writing a book about national anthems, the easiest part turned out to be choosing its name.

I scrolled down a list of the world’s anthems hoping to find something that could work as a book title. God Save the Queen? Nope! La Marseillaise? Next! Land der Berge, Land am Strome? Er…perhaps not.

But as soon as I hit Republic or Death – the name of Paraguay’s anthem – I knew I had a winner. It’s a phrase that sums up everything about anthems: how they can be gloriously over-the-top and passionate, but how many of them are responsible for inspiring some of the bloodiest moments in history.

Fortunately, the anthem sounds great – starting off with a rollicking 50-second intro, and then featuring so many time changes it’s near impossible to sing, more an opera than a song. Once I’d heard it, there was no going back.

This weekend I’m finally heading to Paraguay to research that song, its history and meaning today. Unsurprisingly, I’m a bit excited.

The composer behind República o Muerte also happened to write Uruguay’s amazing anthem – the less well named Himno Nacional (no, that wouldn’t work as a book title!) – so I’ll also be heading there.

If you’re in either country and fancy a cerverza or two, let me know, otherwise I’ll write something when I’m back. Abrazos!

(Apologies if the Spanish in this post makes no sense. I’ve only been learning the language for three weeks!)