The Rugby World Cup’s anthems: from porn to tragedy, and everything in between!

Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni and Matias Aguero screaming Italy's national anthem before the playing Wales (stolen from Stu Forster/Getty Images!)

Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni and Matias Aguero screaming Italy’s national anthem before playing Wales (stolen from Stu Forster/Getty Images!)

The Rugby World Cup’s been introducing people to some fantastic national anthems. Not least my favourite, Uruguay’s. Wait until the end of this clip to see a huge, 6-foot, 20-odd stone man being brought to tears by singing it.

Or go here to see a man from Fiji showing equal emotion.

The fascinating, politically significant and often hilarious stories behind many of the anthems are all in my book, Republic or Death!, which features chapters on South Africa’s five-language anthem, Japan’s haunting Kimigayo, France’s rousing Marseillaise, Uruguay’s rambunctious anthem, the US’s Star-Spangled Banner and even my very own God Save the Queen.

But for those who’re yet to pick up a copy and just want a quick guide to interesting things they can say in the pub while watching matches, here are some fact’s for you:

Uruguay’s: the man behind this genuinely great song is more famous in his home country for writing a poem called Apology for the Penis that tries to prove the male appendage is better than its female equivalent. As his biographer told me, “His life is a bad example for schoolchildren, but respectability is not a requirement for literary appreciation!” He also used to black-up so he could write “in the jargon of slaves”. Hmm.

France’s: to keep with the smut theme, the author of la Marseillaise found his life so upended after writing that song that he had to write pornographic ditties to make a living. One’s about a couple having sex in a stream. Unsurprisingly, it’s not as widely known today as his anthem!

Japan’s: the country’s anthem was first written by a British soldier, but he got the music so wrong – it went up when a Japanese singer would naturally go down, and vice versa – the Japanese had to overhaul it. The song, Kimigayo, is also easily the most controversial anthem of all time – the chapter about it in my book is filled with so much tragedy and sadness, it’s a real turning point – which explains why the Japanese team have been ignoring it and singing a rap called Japanese Warrior instead!

South Africa’s: Immediately after apartheid South Africa played three songs one after the other as its anthem. It took Nelson Mandela a year to realise he’d made a huge mistake by requiring that – even he was bored by having to stand there for 6 minutes to listen to it all – and order a change. Today’s five-language anthem is the beautiful result.

Wales: We wouldn’t sing national anthems before sports event it wasn’t for the Welsh. In 1905, their rugby team sang Land of My Fathers (Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau) in response to a visiting New Zealand team’s haka and soon the world was copying their example. So the next time you find yourself having to bellow one, blame Wales!

National plagiarism

If you’re visiting here due to today’s BBC piece on plagiarised anthems, then first, buy my book! But with that out of the way, here is the music you’ve come for.

This is Bosnia’s anthem followed by the music from Animal House:

Yes, they do sound remarkably similar.

Is it coincidence? I clearly think so and not just for the reason of wanting to avoid a lawsuit. But could someone have heard that in a film and remembered it 20 years on? Here’s Animal House’s opening scene where the ‘anthem’ is prominent, although so is another melody someone could equally have taken for an anthem. I’ll leave you to decide what actually happened here.

As the BBC piece makes clear, lots of anthems have similar problems. This is Uruguay’s followed by Donizetti’s Lucrezia Borgia.

Uruguay’s is also similar to one of Beethoven’s sonatas, and the other day I heard a similarity in one of Mozart’s piano concertos, so make of that what you will.

For all the other comparisons, please trawl through my book’s audio guide although I’ll happily put more up here if there’s a clamour. Yes, some anthems I did leave out (hello everyone in South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia, Namibia and Zimbabwe!), but I had to save something for people to discover in the book.

Anyway, to finish, this is South Korea’s anthem played in the style of Auld Lang Syne just because it’s fun.

Update: The Daily Telegraph has also published a fun piece of mine today on the world’s strangest anthems. It features Nepal’s and Kazakhstan’s, which have chapters in the book. The stories surrounding those songs – one’s linked to a Maoist revolution, the other exemplifies the madness of a dictatorship – should really be more widely known. Enjoy!