It is hard to decide what makes a national anthem great. Therefore, I have chosen a simple formula to judge each entry. A national anthem should trigger pride, nostalgia, and unity; the music must be vibrant and uplifting. A recent online forum asks people to name their favorite one. Here are ten great national anthems — in no particular order.
1. Wales: “Land of My Fathers”
“Wales, especially hearing 74,000 Welsh singing it in full voice,” raves a Kiwi rugby fan in our first entry. While my English national anthem doesn't make the cut (sorry, your Majesty), Wales' uplifting, chest-swelling “Land of My Fathers” never fails to bring goosebumps. I am part Welsh, so I am allowed to feel two forms of national pride. Nothing beats the Welsh national anthem before the rugby at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
2. The United States of America: “Star Spangled Banner”
That some American citizens refuse to sing, stand, or acknowledge “Star Spangled Banner” is surprising to most Brits, who would love such an emotive national song. The message of hope and unity never fails to deliver. “I'm not familiar with very many national anthems,” adds a commenter, “but as an American classically trained vocalist, I will say our anthem is one of the most fun pieces I ever get to sing.”
3. France: “La Marseillaise”
“La Marseillaise is ridiculously stirring,” declares our next thread leader. “Whenever I see the scene in Casablanca where the patrons of Rick's Cafe drown out the Nazis by singing La Marseillaise, I can't help singing along at the top of my lungs.” Written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in 1792, the anthem became the rabble-rousing theme tune of the French Revolution and was adopted by the First Republic on the eve of war against Austria.
4. Canada: “Oh, Canada”
“I am from the U.S., but I like Canada's national anthem more,” says a contributor. Those Canadians maybe feel the same as I do about our shared dirge-like British national anthem, so who can blame them for adding a new one? In 1980, they made “God Save the Queen” their ‘royal' anthem, bringing “Oh, Canada” to the fore. Curiously, the music and lyrics are from two sources: Quebecois pianist Calixa Lavallée wrote the piano in 1880, with French and English lyrics coming from two heavily-mustachioed men of the time.
5. Russia: “Patrioticheskaya Pesnya”
As we know, Russia is a huge, complicated land of many regions; its national anthem's story is just as fractured. However, no matter what is going in in Russia right now, there is no denying their national anthem is incredibly stirring. “The U.S.S.R. anthem, performed by the Red Army Chorus, is about the most stirring thing ever,” agrees a fan who argues that we can separate a country's leadership from its arts.
6. Republic of Tuva: “Men – Tyva Men”
“Headphones and eyes closed recommended, says an excitable contributor. You will feel like you're levitating.” Before this, I had never heard of Tuva, a small Russian-controlled republic on the southern Siberian border. What is striking about “Men – Tyva Men” is its similarity to Native American music. The Siberian throat-singing, the two-stringed igil, and the three-stringed doshpuluur make for a stirring harmony that would make any nation jealous.
7. Cambodia: “Nokor Reach.”
“Most nations have anthems based on military marching band music,” explains a Cambodian commenter. “Cambodia's is based on an old folk song.” The wonderful thing about “Nokor Reach” is that it doesn't sound like a national anthem. If one weren't aware, they might feel they are listening to a love song. I vote for more folk music national anthems like this; it is beautiful.
8. China: “March of the Volunteers”
“I love how China does their anthem and unfurls the flag on that strong third note,” says an objective contributor. “So dramatic!” China still uses the same anthem from its communist roots, though nationalism was the catalyst for the tubthumping lyrics following Japan's invasion of Manchuria in 1931.
9. South Africa: “National Anthem of South Africa”
This wonderfully harmonious piece combines the country's various languages. Originating in a Xhosa hymn and with stanzas consisting of Afrikaans, Sesotho, Zulu, and English lyrics, the “National Anthem of South Africa” is unique. Moreover, its folk roots bring a more humane tone to the anthem.
10. Ukraine: “Shche ne Vmerla Ukraina”
I had to put Ukraine's anthem in, if anything, for its defiant lyrics reflecting on centuries of fighting for freedom. Ukraine's strategic location between major imperial powers in the East European Plain has meant its people have suffered successive invasions in the past and now the present. One fan is in awe of “the fact that the anthem that starts ‘Ukraine has not yet perished.'” Who can argue with that kind of blood-pumping rhetoric?
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