Olympic anthem of the day #2: Team Refugee!

Popole Misenga, one of the Team Refugee's judoka. He's originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo where, due to the war, his mother was murdered and he had to flee to the rainforest alone

Popole Misenga, one of Team Refugee’s judokas. Originally from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, his mother was murdered when he was just six and he had to flee to the rainforest alone

There are, brilliantly, ten refugees competing at the Olympics: five South Sudanese, two Syrians, two judokas from the Democratic Republic of Congo and an Ethiopian marathon runner.

What anthem will they hear in the miraculous event they win gold? Not their own. And that’s a huge shame as it’d be great if the Syrians, especially, could stand on the podium and sing theirs as if saying, “I represent this country – not the war.”

Instead, any who do win will get the Olympic anthem, which is an even bigger shame as it’s appalling – an overblown hymn that relies on being high-pitched to stir emotion.

I should give it some slack, though. It was written in 1896 and its lyrics, at least, are suitable for the Olympics, calling at one point for God to “shine in the momentum of noble contests…running, wrestling, throwing.”

It’s a shame those words are in Greek, mind. I’m not sure how many Congolese refugees are au fait with the language.

If you’d like to know more about the refugees’ own anthems, here’s a blog about the bizarre fact all sides of the Syrian conflict sing the same tune; here’s an interview with Mido Samuel, the inspiring composer of South Sudan’s, once a refugee himself; and here’s a blog about Ethiopia’s appalling anthem.

I’ve surprisingly not written about the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s beautiful anthem, Debout Congolaise (Arise, Congolese), before, but here it is for you. It’s the only national anthem with a call-and-response section, so listen out for that towards the end.

The Islamic State’s national anthem – and why you’ll worryingly like it

I recently wrote this article for the Guardian on the Islamic State’s national anthem and how the body’s changing the music of jihad. It was the most interesting article I’ve researched in a while, so hopefully it’s a moderately interesting read.

For those without the time to read 1,500 words, here’s the actual anthem. It’s great… until 2’53 in.

Update: If you want even more on ISIS’ music, I recently spoke to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s brilliant Q radio programme about it. Listen here. They amazingly gave me 15 minutes to prattle on. You have been warned!

Strangely united in song: Syria’s rebels and government

Syria’s rebels have their own governmentunder-construction website and flag, but one thing they don’t have is their own anthem.

They sing Ħumāt ad-Diyār, Guardians of the Homeland, just as the disgraced president Bashar al-Assad and his supporters do.

It’s an odd state of affairs for a civil war, especially as al-Assad often uses the anthem in rallies. You’d have thought the rebels would want to distance themselves from it as far as possible.

I was chatting with some rebel supporters in London recently – they were demonstrating in Westminster, trying to get the UK to sell them arms (the UK had just recognised them as the country’s official government) – and they surprisingly told me they had no problem with the song.

“It’s got nothing to do with f**king al-Assad,” one politely put it. “It’s from the time we won independence [from France]. And the words, they’re perfect for our situation.”

He’s right on the last point. The opening lines are “guardians of the homeland, upon you be peace, our proud spirits refuse to be humiliated.
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Later on it talks of the “flutter of hopes…uniting the entire country” and then it starts rolling out line after line about martyrs, some of them quite poetic (the ink the Syrians use to write is martyr’s blood).

It’s stirring stuff – a true song of defiance and revolution – and it’s easy to see why it appeals to both the rebels and al-Assad’s forces.

It’s a shame, then, the music’s so poor. Ħumāt ad-Diyār is a dull military march, the sort of tune that says nothing about Syria or the Middle East. All it really says is that it was written in the 1930s, and that the person who wrote it was under the influence of France’s military bands.

Here’s hoping that among the rebels are a few musicians looking to compose something better.

(If you’re reading this on a mobile, you can listen to the anthem here. The picture at the top of this post is stolen from this great series by the AP photographer Narciso Contreras)