6 facts about national anthems

2014-07-04 14:34

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Cape Town - ANC MP Lindiwe Maseko has argued that broadcasting the national anthem twice a day on SABC radio stations would foster patriotism. Could she be right? What do we really know about national anthems? News24 finds out.

1. American schools lead the way

Americans are famed for pledging their allegiance to the flag from their school days and hoisting the stars and stripes up every available flagpole. Yet a 2004 Harris poll found that almost two-thirds of Americans did not know the national anthem and some did not even realise that The Star Spangled Banner had more than one verse. Of those who did know the national anthem however, 70% learned it at school, the poll found.

2. The British got there first

The Dutch have laid claim for the oldest melody of a national anthem - with the first written version of the Wilhelmus dating back to 1574. But the British national anthem is acknowledged as the oldest publicly recognised national anthem. God Save The King was first performed in London in 1745 and came to be known as the National Anthem at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

3. The tradition started in theatres

The custom of singing national anthems to honour monarchs started in London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, when the band struck up God Save the King following the news that George II’s army had been defeated by the "Young Pretender" to the British throne in 1745. It was repeated nightly and soon spread to other theatres - leading to the custom of greeting monarchs with the song as he or she entered a place of public entertainment.

4. It can get confusing at football matches

Due its association with nationalism, the tune for Britain’s national anthem was also taken up by Liechtenstein - which still uses it today for its anthem Oben am jungen Rhein. According to Alex Marshall, who is writing a book about the composers of national anthems, this had led to “a degree of confusion when Liechtenstein have played England at football”.

Marshall however points out that you can’t criticise Liechtenstein for being the only country lacking in imagination.

“You would also need to criticise the many countries that have taken inspiration from the tune of (French anthem) La Marseillaise for their anthem. Oman and Zimbabwe are two such examples,” he told the BBC.

5. South Africa anthem’s is no exception

We’ve all watched sports players mumble their way through anthems, but when it’s your job to fly the flag for your country, the nation’s eyes are on you. This was a point missed by reggae singer Ras Dumisani who famously fluffed his way through the South African anthem Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika before a France-South Africa rugby match in 2009. He also seemed to struggle with the tune.

Two years later Just Jinger singer Ard Matthews was lambasted for mutilating the anthem at the Springbok 2011 World Cup team announcement. He was forced to apologise mid-song after having difficulties with the non-English parts of the anthem.

Meanwhile, Christina Aguilera came under fire for forgetting the words to the US anthem at the Super Bowl in 2011. Check out some other anthem fails here.

Our national anthem is the only one in the world to contain verses in five different languages. New Zealand's has two and Switzerland's has four.

6. But at least ours is uplifting

Some nationalism is totally silent. Spain is one of four countries in the world to have no official lyrics for its anthem at all. In 2007 the Spanish held a competition to write words for the anthem, but it crumbled in the face of fierce criticism.

The remaining three countries lacking in words are Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and San Marino.

Meanwhile, other countries might want to consider revising their lyrics. The Congo national anthem asks: “And if we have to die/Does it really matter?”, while the first line of Ukraine’s anthem is: “Ukraine is not yet dead.” 

Japan’s national anthem only has four lines, and is the shortest in the world. While the Greeks are laden down with 158 verses - though usually not all of them are sung.

Read more on:    culture

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