Music and National Identity

This week’s blog considers the role of music in national identity; is it important that countries have a national anthem and are there any contemporary musical genres based around national identity? This blog also considers if contemporary youth are aware of their national identity.

A countries’ national anthem is in essence, a musical flag. It expresses to other countries the unity of it’s people and what they stand for. People take great pride in their national anthem and it can provoke strong, emotional reactions. Take for example the Olympics this year, how many athletes did we see, women AND men, standing strong, waiting to receive their medals, crumble and cry when their countries national anthem came on?! Lots! I personally found that very touching.

Let’s talk about contemporary musical genres based on national identity. The first that springs to my mind is Irish pop/rock. Take the lovely Corrs from our very own Dundalk who have a huge fan base all over the world. Of course anyone who knows me or who reads my blogs knows I was quite the “Corr-razy” fan in my early teens and I still love their music to this day.

I loved that the Corrs fused typically Irish in style melodies (some traditional, some composed by themselves) the Irish language and Irish traditional instruments (the fiddle, tin whistle, bodhrán, accordian and even uilleann pipes) with contemporary pop and rock. “Toss the Feathers” which was released on their debut album (1995) is a great example of a traditional Irish tune blended with rock. It’s exciting, catchy and very Irish! No matter what country in the world you come from, you know instantly that this is music from Ireland!

This next song influenced me in so many ways as a teenager, as a violin player, as a songwriter, it fuelled an appreciation and understanding of great songwriting and it still does. Irish traditional instruments and melodies are laced with pop and rock perfectly. I still love that funky muted rock guitar in the verses and the vocal production and that sweet drum sound. Everything about this song is perfect. It sounds as awesome to me now as it did 16 years ago. The entire album remains one of my all time favourites.

I could write forever about the Corrs’ use of Ireland’s national identity in their music, they continued to weave Irish traditional in their music right up to their most recent album “Home” (2005). I remember being at their massive concert in Lansdowne Road, Dublin in 1999 as a 15 year old and enjoying watching the fans Irish dancing, there was a real sense of national identity and a real pride to be Irish that night. It was a beautiful and rocking show!

Sharon, Andrea and Jim Corr
Sharon, Andrea and Jim Corr

The Corrs have enjoyed global success with their unique blend of traditional/celtic/folk/pop/rock/alternative music, other artists which incorporate traditional Irish identity into their contemporary music would be the Pogues, the Horslips, to a lesser degree the Cranberries (for Dolores O’Riordans’ strong Limerick accent in her vocal performance and her lyrics which occasionally were about Irish politics), Sinéad O’Connor, Enya, Clannad, Mairín Fahy etc.

Israel’s modern music is strongly linked with their national identity. Jewish and non Jewish music traditions are fused with pop, jazz and rock etc. Modern songs are fused with the traditional canonical style of singing and music (use of minor and modal keys, strong off-beat rhythms, darbuka and tambourine instruments and lyrics about Israeli life).

Cool darbuka rhythms above!

A really good example of Israeli national identity within music is Rita, an artist who sings in her native Persian language and uses traditional instruments with pop. Her music, along with most other Western music is banned in Iran yet she is extremely popular with both peoples. Check out her recent hit “Shane” .

Lastly I will briefly talk about the importance of national identity in the age of the Internet. I’ve been asked to consider if it is important to young people in the global village. I would say yes, that it is very important. This is just my personal opinion, I haven’t done any research, I think that would be an interesting project in itself! 😉

I believe that people from different countries enjoy sharing music and culture through the use of the social media. Every day I see in my Facebook feed photos, witty jokes, status updates and music in various languages. I have a lovely circle of friends from Germany, Lithuania, Poland, Italy, New Zealand, Latvia, Mauritius, China, Malaysia, Taiwan, as well as other English speaking countries- America, Canada, Australia and the U.K. I find through Facebook that young people are quick to show their pride for their country, even if they aren’t living in their country of birth.

Again I’m thinking of the Olympics- wasn’t Facebook and Twitter feed FULL of national pride during the events?!

I hope this makes my readers think about their national identities and I hope they feel proud of their culture and heritage! I believe the Internet has made the world a smaller place but this has not diminished national identities in any way.

Peace out.

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