An Anthem's Discordant Notes

Pitbull, among the artists on the song.
Pitbull, among the artists on the song. (By Wilfredo Lee -- Associated Press)

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By David Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 28, 2006

Oh say can you see -- a la luz de la aurora?

The national anthem that once endured the radical transformation administered by Jimi Hendrix's fuzzed and frantic Stratocaster now faces an artistic dare at least as extreme: translation into Spanish.

The new take is scheduled to hit the airwaves today. It's called "Nuestro Himno" -- "Our Anthem" -- and it was recorded over the past week by Latin pop stars including Ivy Queen, Gloria Trevi, Carlos Ponce, Tito "El Bambino," Olga Tañon and the group Aventura. Joining and singing in Spanish is Haitian American artist Wyclef Jean.

The different voices contribute lines the way 1985's "We Are the World" was put together by an ensemble of stars. The national anthem's familiar melody and structure are preserved, while the rhythms and instrumentation come straight out of Latin pop.

Can "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the republic for which it stands, survive? Outrage over what's being called "The Illegal Alien Anthem" is already building in the blogosphere and among conservative commentators.

Timed to debut the week Congress returned to debate immigration reform, with the country riven by the issue, "Nuestro Himno" is intended to be an anthem of solidarity for the movement that has drawn hundreds of thousands of people to march peacefully for immigrant rights in Washington and cities across the country, says Adam Kidron, president of Urban Box Office, the New York-based entertainment company that launched the project.

"It's the one thing everybody has in common, the aspiration to have a relationship with the United States . . . and also to express gratitude and patriotism to the United States for providing the opportunity," says Kidron.

The song was being prepared for e-mailing as MP3 packages to scores of Latino radio stations and other media last night, and Kidron was calling for stations to play the song simultaneously at 7 Eastern time this evening.

However, the same advance buzz that drew singers to scramble for inclusion in the recording sessions this week in New York, Miami, Texas, Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic has also spurred critics who say rendering the song in Spanish is a rejection of assimilation into the United States.

Even some movement supporters are puzzled by the use of Spanish.

"Even our Spanish media are saying, 'Why are we doing this, what are you trying to do?' " said Pedro Biaggi, the morning host with El Zol (99.1 FM), the most popular Hispanic radio station in the Washington area. "It's not for us to be going around singing the national anthem in Spanish. . . . We don't want to impose, we don't own the place. . . . We want to be accepted."

Still, Biaggi says he will play "Nuestro Himno" this morning if the song reaches the station in time. But he will talk about the language issue on the air and solicit listeners' views. He says he accepts the producers' explanation that the purpose is to spread the values of the anthem to a wider audience. He adds he will also play a version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" in English -- as he aired the Whitney Houston version earlier this week, when the controversy was beginning to brew.


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