That right there is pretty good illustration of how well/unwell we know our national anthem. Besides the ever popular happy birthday, it’s arguably the most celebrated song in the land so it wasn’t such a stretch to think that every Zambian above the age of five could sing the Stand and Sing of Zambia, Proud and Free in its entirety. Boy was I wrong!
Last week, I watched a local news magazine and was utterly amazed at how many people can’t sing all the three verses of the anthem. In fact not one person managed to sing them all or at least not correctly. Most did okay with the first verse and the chorus but the second and third were disastrous to say the least. Ironic coz the opening words (which everyone knows of course) are as follows: Stand and sing of Zambia, proud and free…Proud you say? Unless one is of the thinking that ignorance is bliss there is no pride in not knowing our own song.
After being disappointed by my proud countrymen I thought maybe the participants on TV had been cherry-picked for the very reason that they dint know the anthem. I decided to do an experiment: asking random people on their knowledge of the national anthem and I don’t mean history or trivia questions…the simple task of sing the national anthem. Having witnessed it on TV already, the results were not so shocking. From the 14 people I asked none, zero, nought, zilch, jack could sing the national anthem from beginning to end.
I tried to console myself by saying my sample size was small but the spread convinced me otherwise -primary school kids to middle aged folks. The anthem is printed on the back of primary school exercise books, surely there must be some kids who’ve mastered it. The 50 to 60 year olds were 10 or younger when the country gained political independence (1964), you’d think the song meant something to them and those born into freedom when it was adopted in 1973. Maybe its meaning died with the patriotism of the freedom fighters. Perhaps the fervour of 1964, the bald fish eagle and the indomitable human spirit sung of have simply been diluted by decades of corruption and moral coarsening.
And I guess my generation is either not interested to know and live that song or we just feel the elders have failed us coz the song has clearly lost its reverence. I can’t remember the last time I sung the national anthem. Maybe it’s the youth, the leaders of tomorrow who have lost touch with their roots. It was all different from when I was a kid, I song that song so proudly at school parade every Monday morning with my hand on my heart. In my younger years I’d stumble through the first verse and would try my best to complete it without hurting my tongue…hold on! That’s it! We only sing the first verse, at school, soccer matches, presidential inaugurations and swearing in ceremonies, that’s how come we don’t know the other verses…come on, that’s a lame excuse. We’ve mastered all the verses of Hills by The Weeknd, even the outro which he sings in his native Amharic – it’s all about interest.
I know there’s thousands, hopefully millions of people out there who know the national anthem word for word but it would’ve been cool to come across one person with the words on the tip of the tongue ready to vindicate the rest. With each passing sentence I feel like this article is rather a fuss coz I know the anthem start to end but it seems something of a charade to me, a necessary lie coz I have a hard time recognising and relating to most of what the song says. It would appear as though the hopes of our fore fathers and the times we live in are as far from each other as the east is from the west. Like the pic above, it’s all hazy. Suddenly The Weeknd’s lyrics are more relatable. As mentioned above, our anthem is more ceremonial than anything. Perhaps a remnant of a once glorious but fleeting past handed from one generation to another. Yet a simple fact remains: most of us do not know our own song, all the more reason to learn it and rediscover ourselves.