WHAT makes a national anthem? A rousing tune to quicken the pulse, some pathos to moisten the eyes and that inexplicable something to make it stand out from all the rest. A surprising number are hemmed in by the musical traditions of Europe in the 19th century, when nationalism spread across the world—Uruguay’s is the best of the bunch. Too many, including “God Save the Queen”, suffer from dreary harmonies and platitudes about being victorious and glorious. The home nations of the United Kingdom have all the best tunes—just listen to Wales’s “Land of our Fathers”. Good anthems, such as Ukraine’s and Israel’s, contain a tinge of sadness, because nationalism is really about longing, suffering and sacrifice. The best, like South Africa’s, Nkosi Sikelil’iAfrika, create their own world entirely.
In a straw poll at The Economist, South African Anthem was voted as the best in the world. Taken from a protest hymn, the lyrics combine Afrikaans, English, Xhosa, Zulu and Sesotho in an act of musical healing for the Rainbow nation