Friday, February 19, 2010

Why do all national anthems sound the same?

An Explainer reader once asked, "Is it just me, or do all national anthems the world over, no matter how rich and exotic the culture, seem to sound like European marching-band music? Wouldn't one expect China's national anthem [to] be more 'plinky'? Shouldn't Iraq's national anthem sound a little more 'arab-y'?" Upon initial receipt of this question—in 2008— Slate editors relegated it to that year's list of unanswered (or unanswerable) questions. After a week of watching Olympic medal ceremonies, however, the Explainer was also struck by certain broad-brush similarities. Reader, it's not just you wondering—why do the anthems sound so much alike?

Colonialism. National anthems originated in Europe, and then spread around the world. ... With imperialism, Europeans spread their musical taste. Even when former colonies gained independence, they often imitated the traditions of their former rulers. In some cases Europeans actually composed the melodies.
--Juliet Lapidos, Slate, on a permanent cultural legacy of colonialism

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