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National anthem: Why Spain is lost for words

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National anthem: Why Spain is lost for words
Members of the Spanish team listen (but don't sing along) to their national anthem before FIFA Women's Under-17 tournament football match. Archive photo: AFP
11:34 CET+01:00
Spain’s Marcha Real is one of four national anthems in the world with no official lyrics leaving its sportsmen with the embarrassing problem of humming or ‘fa-la-la’-ing awkwardly on the podium.

Last weekend saw the issue stirred up anew with singer Marta Sanchez performing her rendition of the anthem complete with words extolling pride in Spain, a sentiment that was never going to go down well with independence-minded regions.

It did however, win congratulations from Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy.who tweeted a video of her performance.

“A very good initiative,” he wrote. “The immense majority of Spaniards felt represented. Thanks, Marta.”

But does this signal that Spain is a step closer to having words, to singing for Spain with one voice?.

"I hope not,” Francisco Layna, an author and professor of literature living in Madrid told The Local.  

“I don't like anthems, period. What I like the most about Spain's anthem is precisely the fact that it doesn't have any words."

The original anthem, written in 1761 by Manuel de Espinosa, was not composed as an anthem with lyrics, but rather to serve as a military march to provide a beat for the Spanish Infantry.

King Carlos III adopted the song as the official march of Spain in 1770 and it later became the official anthem. 

While lyrics have been written and used for the anthem in the past, none have ever been made official by the Spanish government.

During the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco the national anthem was given lyrics penned by fascist poet Jose Maria Peman but those verses were dropped on the dictator's death and Spain’s transition to democracy.

An attempt in 2008 by Spain's Olympic Committee to set words to the music of the national anthem backfired and was quietly dropped after widespread criticism of the choice.

The lyrics chosen in a competition of 7,000 entries drew criticism with its opening line of "Viva España", a phrase associated with the dictatorship of Franco.

In 2015, Madrid composer Victor Lago started a change,org petition with his lyrics that began with the words "Glory, homeland" but failed to win enough support to take it any further.

A year later and it was the turn of Guillermo Delgado Ortega, a composer who thought that he could win concensus with his verses focusing on freedom, peace and equality – without mentioning Spain at all. But that initiative was dropped too.

Antonio Escobar, a lifelong resident of Madrid's Salamanca neighborhood spoke about the coincidence of the renewed search for words for the anthem and the Catalonian push for independence.

"With everything that's going on in Catalonia the Spanish people have taken an introspective look at their country and what it means to be patriotic," said Escobar. "We never saw the need for words, and it doesn't mean we weren't patriotic, it means that there wasn't a need to express that patriotism so blatantly."

After Catalonian referendum held last fall to vote on the independence of Catalonia and the flee of six pro-independence leaders abroad, it is unlikely that lyrics approved by government will receive support from separatists in the Basque and Catalonian regions.

The separatist regions are not the only ones opposed to Sanchez’ lyrics.

In an interview with the national radio of Spain (RNE) Pablo Iglesias, the general secretary of the left-wing Populist Party Podemos said that lyrics for the anthem are meaningless if the corruption and inequality stand in the way.

 "If we have a great anthem but the children are studying in barracks, if we have a great anthem, but the pension fund is emptied, if a good part of our young people have to emigrate ...I like to be patriotic by putting emphasis not on flags or anthems but on public services," said Iglesias.

It looks like, for a while at least, Spain will continue to be lost for words.


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