Monday June 30 2014

Let’s reproduce the National Anthem in our local languages

By Milton Wabyona

I wish to refer to NTV Uganda’s news of June 25, (9pm) in which the Minister for Tourism Maria Mutagamba explains her plans to re-produce the Uganda National Anthem in more dramatic and participatory forms. The minister’s idea was subsequently supplemented by Mr Alex Mukulu’s analysis that the Pearl of Africa anthem in its current form lacks inspiration, partly because of its poetic construction (Oh, Uganda…), which he refers to as a ‘lamenting mood’. While this idea has its merits, a more critical and professional analysis needs to be considered for one major reason - to maintain the dignity and reverence required for a musical composition of this stature.
Indeed, our National Anthem has had a rather lukewarm impact on the citizens largely due to the mode of its presentation as an instrumental performance. On all State functions and other official ceremonies, it has become common practice to have a brass band (police, army, prisons and others) take a lead role in performing the anthem. You can also add to this argument the only official recording available, which was performed by a British orchestra way back when the anthem was just composed.
Anthems are music compositions that (primarily) evoke the history and traditions of a people but also reflect their utmost expression of allegiance and patriotism to their country, institution or community. These expressions can be stimulated by the various constituent elements of the music, which are the lyrics, melody, rhythm and harmony. All these elements must be carefully and artistically crafted together to achieve the ultimate goal that communicates to the listener (and the performer too) in order evoke patriotic emotions. In Uganda’s case, the latter three (melody, rhythm and harmony) have dominated the presentation of our anthem at the expense of the lyrics. Unfortunately, these three are the complicated elements of music for an ordinary mind to interpret and respond to, whereas lyrics or the words on the other hand, are the much easier and a rather direct element that an ordinary mind can quickly relate with.
The pearl of Africa is an expression of praise for Uganda as a jewel of Africa, a unique country, gifted by nature than all the 54 states. Unless someone sung this, the impact will never be felt or even in worst scenarios, the listener might get bored and switch off. Singing the anthem evokes strong emotions and builds mental images that demand our pledge of allegiance. Only one musical instrument-the human voice, has the ability to execute lyrics in any musical composition. It is important to note that the human voice has peculiar attributes in penetrating the innermost part of the human soul, so much more than all other musical instruments. And when the rhythmic and harmonic elements of the anthem are added to the voice, then you will achieve a dramatic and emotional impact of an anthem.
Recently, the President declared that all three stanzas of the National Anthem be presented at all official ceremonies in order to popularise it. I must say this is still falling short of achieving the purpose when all we get are three rounds of the same music presentation by the bands.
The argument of the English language in which the anthem is written is not satisfactory because a reasonable percentage of government employees and political leaders cannot comfortably recite the anthem even when they use English on a daily basis. And for the purpose of the non-English speakers, the new renditions should focus on producing versions in the various indigenous languages of Uganda but must maintain the original melody while fulfilling proper intonations of the different languages.
Mr Wabyona is an assistant lecturer at the department of Performing Arts &Film, Makerere University.