Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Best and worst national anthems

Taking off from a criticism of the "Star-Spangled Banner" as nothing more but a "warmed-over drinking song," Pupu Platter discusses how national anthems, however corny and atrocious the lyrics, unify a nation. Quoting from Benedict Anderson:

T]here is a special kind of contemporaneous community which language alone suggests -- above all in the form of poetry and songs! Take national anthems, for example, sung on national holidays. No matter how banal the words and mediocre the tunes, there is in this singing an experience of simultaneity. At precisely such moments, people wholly unknown to each other utter the same verses to the same melody. The image: unisonance.* Singing the Marseillaise, Waltzing Matilda, and Indonesia Raya provide occasions for unisonality, for the echoed physical realization of the imagined community. (So does listening to [and maybe silently chiming in with] the recitation of ceremonial poetry, such as sections of The Book of Common Prayer). How selfless this unisonance feels! If we are aware that others are singing these songs precisely when and as we are, we have no idea who they may be, or even where, out of earshot, they are singing. Nothing connects us all but imagined sound.

I have often considered it a curious fact that most people I know never seem to remember the words of the Philippine national anthem when singing alone, but has no problem remembering the lines when singing in a crowd. I ike to think that this curious fact shows the value of a community in everyone's effort to find a political voice, that, as Aristotle put it, we find full expression only as part of a political community. My friends however dismiss it as nothing more but lousy writing on the part of Felipe Buencamino and Jose Palma (did i get these two right? My history class seemed eons ago.)

"Lupang Hinirang," otherwise known to many as Bayang Magiliw, certainly is no masterpiece. Critics, for example, have been gnawing at its defeatist finale line "Ang mamatay nang dahil sa iyo,"' which pales in comparison with America's melodramatic--but highly affirming-- "land of the free, home of the brave."

If national anthems were to be popularly vetted and ranked Billboard-style, which would become hits? Which are the best national anthems? My own favorite is South Africa' s Nkosi Sikelel'i Afrika. It has the distinction of being the only anthem that makes you want to dance on your feet. It is also in sang in four languages, following South Africa's Rainbow Nation all-inclusiveness. The sound of the drums are simply amazing, almost too good to be found in a national anthem.

Another favorite is Israel's Hatikva, a solemn anthem of such great and profound sadness that I always think I could feel the pain of exile just listening to the lyrics. In heaven it would probably be highly inappropriate and parochial to sing one's national anthem in front of God and the angels. But the Jews can sing Hatikva and be forgiven. Whenever I hear the anthem, I am struck by the tragedy of the present conlict in Israel: the Jews who were oppressed in Europe are now the oppressors of Palestinians. It is a real tagedy, and listening to Hatikva always reminds me of it.

China's National Anthem "The March of the Volunteers" also makes me think of hardships, self-sacrifice, and climbing mountains and bivouacs. Leon Lai's techno version of the March of the Volunteers (for which he was banned in the mainland) would surely shoot up to number one in a Billboard of national anthems. It is, of course, hard to argue with the European Union's choice of anthem--Ode to Joy: Beethoven is a master. The unooficial anthem of the American blacks--Lift every voice and sing-- is also worth mentioning.

Which are the worst anthems? I have heard it said that Australians do not disabuse foreigners in thinking "Waltzing Matilda" is the Australian national anthem because the truth is even more of an embarrassment. Although highly affective, the American national anthem is unsingable, save if you're Whitney Houston. If i remember correctly Argentina's anthem is too long. I heard it played once in a film festival and I was standing too long I thought my feet would begin sprouting veins all over.


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