Can we “soup up” the National Anthem?
This article was published this past Sunday in the Daily Nation (Kenya).
Last week I attended the admission into the roll of advocates of 72 new lawyers presided over by the Chief Justice of Kenya Dr Willy Mutunga.
At the colourful ceremony, I noticed two important things. First, I was pleased that the Judiciary has really changed to become a welcoming and open arm of the government. Indeed, Magistrate Njeri Thuku, who was the emcee of the event, actually walked down the aisle before the ceremony started, shaking everyone’s hand as she welcomed them.
“The Judiciary is an employer of choice, it really is,” she emphasised, asking the new learned friends to apply for positions in the new, fresh administrator of justice.
Second, when we rose to sing the national anthem, we didn’t quite do it as we know it. While the song that we sang was most enjoyable, in fact Magistrate Thuku was seen swaying ecstatically (as was I) to its music, it wasn’t the music that we all learnt as children, the music that was written 50 years ago. It was a wonderful remix of the song.
Back in May 1963, a commission was set up to write and develop the national anthem of the then upcoming Republic of Kenya. The team comprising George Senoga-Zake, Richard Koskey, Graham Hyslop, Rev Thomas Kalume, Peter Kibukosya and Washington Okumu ultimately presented a three-verse song derived from a Pokomo folk song to the then Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta and his Council of Ministers. The song was sung in English and Kiswahili as played by the Kenya Police Band on that day and on September 10 that year, it was recorded.
The National Assembly at the time passed a Bill that came to be known as “The National Anthem Act” No 44 of 1963, which was revised this year. Section 2 (4) of that Act says: “The anthem of which the words and music are set out in the Third Schedule to this Act is hereby declared to be the National Anthem of Kenya.”
It has disturbed me that the song that we sang on that wonderful Friday was in fact not the song described in the Third Schedule of the Act. The words were the same but the music wasn’t what is written in the sheet music that is embedded in the Act.
Quite often, globally, musicians have taken to improving the rendition of the national anthem in modern ways, with a view to making them more enjoyable. In America, especially at the beginning of sports events, musicians have been known to give the Star Spangled Banner their own personal flair.
In Kenya, too, there have been several interesting renditions that have been done. As a general practice, one doesn’t find anything wrong with it. On the contrary, one is likely to enjoy the break from the monotony of the same rendition passed down the decades.
I wonder, however, if a remix of the national anthem can be acceptable at an official function of the Judiciary, one presided over by the Chief Justice and the President of the Supreme Court! By his presence, that of the Deputy Chief Justice and that of the LSK Chairman, one could surmise that it is considered acceptable practice by the honourable court, or that it hasn’t been thought through.
One could argue that at the solemn formal functions of the Supreme Court, such as that when new lawyers are swearing to “uphold the rule of law and the administration of justice”, the national anthem should be sung in the words and manner prescribed by that law.
The Judiciary must not be construed to be sending the message that the national anthem is boring. Although tradition in this century is often viewed as an encumbrance to society, I dare say that it too has its place in our society.
At the Supreme Court, if nowhere else, some tradition must be kept authentic and in its original pristine condition. The national anthem is one of these traditions.