Country Music: National Anthems of the World

Pimsleur Approach • ArtsComments (1)

Music is something all countries have in common - via Wikipedia

When it comes to blowing your country’s own horn, there’s no better way than with a stirring national anthem. But what is it that makes a good one? For that matter, what makes a not-so-good national anthem? Here are a few suggestions.

The All-Encompassing National Anthem

When your country’s made up of multifarious language communities, it’s nice to give everyone a voice. Composed by Alberich Zwyssig in 1841, the Swiss Palm has that stately Western, horn-rich quality that’s familiar in so many of Europe’s national anthems but is singularly cool in that its lyrics are available in four different languages; German, French, Italian and Romansh. Despite its 19th century origins, the Swiss Palm didn’t become the official national anthem until 1981. Until the end of the 19th century there was no Swiss national anthem at all.

The Unashamedly Upbeat National Anthem

If there’s one criticism to be made of national anthems in general it’s that they’re usually bombastic beasts. Nepal is an exception. Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka (Made of Hundreds of Flowers) only became the Nepalese anthem in 2007 but it’s an instant classic; the catchy melody, sung by a mixed choir wouldn’t sound out of place as a children’s TV theme, while Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka’s childlike lyrics (“Woven from hundreds of flowers, we are one garland that’s Nepali”) are a world away from the old anthem, which obsequiously chirped: “May glory crown you, courageous Sovereign, You, the gallant epalese, Shri Pansh Maharajadhiraja.”

The Rousing National Anthem

Though the Beatles incorporated the French national anthem La Marseillaise into All You Need is Love, there’s nothing particularly loving about La Marseillaise itself. Originally entitled Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin (War Song for the Army of the Rhine) and was soon adopted as the unofficial anthem of the French Revolution; this was almost bound to happen due to the song’s rallying lyrics: “To arms, citizens, form your battalions. Let’s march, let’s march!” Serge Gainsbourg’s 1978 reggae version of the anthem is of a decidedly more horizontal disposition, more likely to rouse you to crack open a cold lager on a beach.

The Accidentally-European National Anthem

It’s unlikely that Rabindranath Tagore meant for his 1905 song Amar Shonar Bangla (My Golden Bengal) to conjure images of golden-era 19th century Europe but it does nonetheless. The lyrics are Eastern enough, what with their mention of the fragrance of the mango groves and the full-blossomed paddy fields. But the anthem’s 3/4 waltz time and impetuous cymbal crashes rather make you want to dance along the banks of the Danube whilst stuffing sweet cabbage strudel in your mouth. It may not sound in the least bit Bengali, but Amar Shonar Bangla still sounds pretty darn great.

The Gloomy National Anthem

Now for a lesson in how not to compose a national anthem. With a country as gloomy as North Korea, it’s only right that there’s a national anthem that reflects this. Aegukka (Let Morning Shine) is led by a vast, lifeless male choir, the sort of sound that instantly prompts images of grey military marches and beleaguered citizens weeping into their gruel. It’s a limp, lugubrious national anthem, while the lyrics are something of a paradox. “Let morning shine on this land’s rivers and mountains,” groans the choir, “Three thousand li full of silver and gold”. Nah, still sounds gloomy to us.

The Plagiaristic National Anthem

On first (and second, and third) hearing of Norway’s national anthem, Ja, vi elsker dette landet (brilliantly translated as “Yes, we love this country”) you would be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu. The opening refrain bears more than a passing resemblance to the Welsh Christmas carol Deck the Halls. Barely have you recovered from this, when the next refrain comes in, this one echoing the melody from another Christmas hymn, While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks. Fortunately the third section is a crescendo that’s utterly stirring and bears not the least bit of resemblance to anything Christmassy whatsoever. Saved.

The Revamped National Anthem

Nothing breathes new life (or indeed ruins) a national anthem like a contemporary rendition. In 2009, Beyonce sent Nigerian crowds wild when she performed a sultry rendition of their anthem Arise, O Compatriots. In 1983, Marvin Gaye performed arguably the coolest ever version of The Star-Spangled Banner at the NBA All Star Game. On the other hand, a Hamilton County Tennessee police officer performed one of the most teeth-clenching renditions in 2006, when he failed with his words, tuning and general street cred. The best revamp of a national anthem has to be AR Rahman’s effort in 2000 when he assembled some of India’s foremost musicians and a 40-piece string section to create an epic, serene version of Jana Gana Mana. Glorious stuff indeed.

New National Anthem on the Block

At 00:00 on July 9 2011, South Sudan became an independent state, and christened its new national anthem. In true X Factor style, singers took has taken it in turns to perform in front of a panel of judges and a voracious crowd in a concert hall in the Sudanese capital. Provided with the Christian lyrics (written by a collective of 49 poets) that begin “Oh God we praise and glorify you for your grace on South Sudan”, it was the job of the singers to craft a tune around these sentiments. The winners were students and teachers from Juba University, who composed an upbeat, jaunty number that may well signify the future of the national anthem – a collaborative effort that truly represents the sentimentality of a country and its people.

One Response to “ Country Music: National Anthems of the World ”

  1. Jordan says:

    I really liked your blog post. Really Fantastic.

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