One violinist, one anthem and a wall of riot police

Wuilly Arteaga playing Venezuela’s national anthem at a protest in Caracas in May. I’ve stolen this from Luis Robayo and Agence France-Presse/Getty Images. It’s too shocking not to

There was a brilliant story in The New York Times recently about Venezuela’s ongoing anti-government protests and how they’ve embroiled the country’s classical musicians. It was focused on the death of a viola player, Armando Cañizales, who walked alone towards a line of soldiers:

“He said nothing as he advanced, arms outstretched, palms facing up.

“Then the fatal shots rang out.”

Why’s this tragedy relevant to a blog on national anthems? Because Venezuela’s anthem – Glory to the Brave People – is regularly sung and played by protesters at home and abroad, trying to show they really represent the country. Iit’s been played especially since Armando’s death. Here’s one example from that New York Times story:

“On a recent afternoon, [Armando’s friend] Wuilly Arteaga, 23, stood in the centre of a crowd of demonstrators, his violin on his shoulder. His case was strapped to his back, his helmet painted with the colours of the Venezuelan flag. He played the national anthem.

“Explosions of tear gas canisters erupted between the notes he played. Finally, other protesters grabbed him by a shoulder and dragged him back from the security forces.

“‘I remembered my friend Armando,’ Mr. Arteaga said afterward. ‘I have spent ages now playing and living on the streets, and I see that so many talented Venezuelans have had to eat from the trash.'”

Read the whole article now. It’s a great piece of journalism. It’s a shame it’s such sad reading.

There’s already been an anthem cock-up at the Olympics

Nigerian football team at Rio celebrating

The Olympics doesn’t officially start until tonight’s opening ceremony, but things are already going wrong – in anthem terms at least.

Last night, Nigeria beat Japan 5-4 in their opening match of the men’s football tournament (that’s them celebrating above). But beforehand they had the humiliation of being played Venezuela’s anthem rather than their own by mistake.

I’d love to show you a clip, but the IOC seems to have eliminated all traces of it from the internet so instead here are the two anthems. Decide for yourselves which is better.

The most beautiful piano playing about the world’s most violent country

A tribute to a dead protester in Caracas, Venezuela. Copyright is Reuters

A tribute to a dead protester in Caracas, Venezuela. Copyright is Reuters

There were 24,000 murders in Venezuela last year. That’s 65 a day – an almost cartoonish level of violence.

It says something’s seriously wrong there, regardless of what benefits you think Hugo Chavez brought to the country’s poor before he died, or whether you support his successor, Nicolas Maduro.

The violence partly explains the ongoing demonstrations in Caracas, in which three students died earlier this month.

It also partly explains why the pianist Gabriela Montero spends a lot of her time recording protest versions of the country’s national anthem.

Gloria al Bravo Pueblo – Glory to the Brave People – is normally described as a Latin American version of the Marseillaise, a proud military march that spirals to a cymbal crashing ending.

But what Gabriela turns it into is something far more powerful and worth your time. Here’s just three of her takes on it.

In the first two, she makes the anthem sound like the song of a heart-broken lover, one who can barely hold their emotions together long enough to get to the end.

But in the third, she turns it into something altogether different: a fiery tango and a theme song for cacerolazos – those protests where everyone bangs pots and pans to wake up corrupt politicians. It is 100% fantastic.

[For anyone reading on a mobile, you can find the videos here, here and here]

Gabriela’s playing concerts in Germany, Italy, the UK, Serbia, Canada and the US in the next few weeks. Go along. Her full schedule’s here.