Oh Say Can You Sing?


The Best National Anthems You Haven’t Heard

Though you may not agree with the politics behind the flag, it’s generally accepted that the United States of America has an excellent national anthem. Originally written by Francis Scott Key as a poem expressing his feelings during the War of 1812, the poignant words were later paired with the music of “Anacreon in Heaven”, a gentleman’s club song from London.

The most common places to hear the tune are sports matches, the Olympics, and memorial services, and it’s safe to say that even if you don’t know all the words you can hum a few stanzas. Britain’s “God Save the Queen” and Canada’s “Oh, Canada” are similarly recognizable, and the Francophiles amongst us will certainly know France’s “La Marseillaise”.

However, there are 196 countries in the world, all with songs to honor their land. In addition, if we work off the definition of nation as “a large aggregate of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language, inhabiting a particular country or territory”, there are even more anthems to consider. It can all get a bit overwhelming, but never fear! Here are 5 of the best national anthems you’ve probably never heard.

Qatar – “Peace Be to the Emir”

“Al-Salam Al-Amiri” is a baby as far as national anthems go, only instated in 1996 when the current Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al-Thani ascended to the seat of power. The song opens with a great thrill of strings and horns, building up the tension until the vocalists join in with a refreshingly gentle melodic line. The words are pretty grand as well: “Qatar will always be free/Sublimed by the souls of the sinceres.” Who doesn’t want to live in a country that has been sublimed?

Poland – “Poland Has Not Yet Perished”

Poland has had a tough millennium. Caught between continental powers that have been historically eager to conquer each other, Poland has been caught in the crossfires more often than even they can count. Their national anthem is a reflection of this. “Mazurek D?browskiego” opens with the line “As long as we live/What foreign violence has seized/With sabers in hand we will retrieve.” Each of the three verses name-checks different conflicts that the Polish nation has survived. The effect is poignant and touching, and matches well with the traditional Polish mazurka melody. Ironically, the anthem was written in 1797, a full 100 years before some of the most calamitous invasions Poland would ever face. Seriously, European Superpowers, leave Poland alone!

Puerto Rico – “La Borinqueña”

Any national anthem that starts with a gorgeous guitar solo gets high marks in my book. Originally written as a dance in the 1860s, the song is a well-loved ode to the island, as evidenced by the affectionate nickname/title. The original lyrics were deemed too revolutionary, and were subsequently rewritten to form the version that Puerto Rico made official in 1977, two decades after it became a commonwealth. Short, sweet, and danceable, this might be the most romantic national anthem out there.

Bavaria – “For Bavaria”

For those with a taste for more traditional anthems, “Die Bayernhymne” is the perfect match. Two teachers wrote the song in the mid 1880s when Bavaria was still an independent country and it proved instantly popular with the public. With lyrics that evoke the scenery and national colors of Bavaria (Shall He protect your fields/shield your cities’ walls/and conserve to you the colors/of His skies, white and blue), the song initially praised the Bavarian king who was deposed in the tumult of the ensuing world wars. In 1946 the lyrics were rewritten to include more German references, but the song was preserved and taught separately from the German national anthem. In 1964 the government granted it protected status and to this day Bavaria remains the only German state with its own anthem.

Indonesia – “Great Indonesia”

If ever a country has fought for its national anthem, it’s Indonesia. The song was originally created as a rally song for the Nationalist Party when the country was a Dutch colony. The colonial authorities only barely allowed it to be sung, with the provision that the chorus of “Independent and free!” be changed to “Honorable, honorable.” When Japan invaded in 1942, the song was banned outright until the final months of the war when they began to retreat from the region. The Indonesians had kept the song alive as a sign of resistance and declared it their national anthem directly after Japan’s surrender. It’s a dramatic, powerful song that makes you want to join in despite not knowing the language.

Inspired? You can find a lot more information about national anthems and their history at this great site. Check it out and let us know which country is your favorite! (Hint: The anthem of the Soviet Union is epic.)