Singer Marta Sánchez reignites row over Spain’s lyric-less national anthem

The Spanish performer is the latest in a long line of people to try to add words to the official song

Marta Sánchez singing her version of the Spanish national anthem.Video: EPV

Spanish singer Marta Sánchez surprised her audience this Saturday by performing her own version of the Spanish national anthem at a concert at La Zarzuela Theater in Madrid. “I return home to my beloved land, which saw my heart born,” she sang to the music of the anthem.

Hours later, a video of the performance was causing a great stir on social media. Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy congratulated the singer on Twitter for her “very good initiative,” adding: “The immense majority of Spaniards felt represented. Thanks, Marta.”

Courageous and thrilling putting lyrics and heart to the national anthem Albert Rivera

Leader of Ciudadanos Albert Rivera also shared his praise: “Courageous and thrilling putting lyrics and heart to the national anthem,” he wrote on Twitter. Other social media users were less flattering.

“Today I sing to you to tell you how much pride I have in me, that’s why I can’t resist. My love grows each time I leave but don’t forget that without you I don’t know how to live. Red, yellow colors that shine in my heart,” Sánchez sung in her version.

Lit up with yellow and red lights – the colors of the Spanish flag – and accompanied by a pianist, the Madrid-born singer continued as her audience applauded, ending her sold-out concert with the anthem.

“Grand Spain, I thank God I was born here. I will honor you to the end. As your daughter, I will take this honor and fill each corner with your rays of sunshine. And if one day I cannot return, save a spot for me so that I can rest in peace,” the version ends.

Sánchez is not the only person to try to add lyrics to the Spanish national anthem. The Spanish anthem the Marcha Real (Royal March) was not composed with any lyrics. Indeed, it was never meant to do more than provide a beat that the military could march to. But the lyrics-less composition by Manuel Espinosa de los Monteros was formalized as a march of honor by King Carlos III and soon became the preferred choice for national anthem. Over the years though, there have been various attempts to put lyrics to the national anthem – none with any success.

The first attempt was in 1843 when the Argentine writer Ventura de la Vega suggested the lyrics: “Come Spaniards / let us yell / God save the Queen / God save the country." But these were never used.

The Spanish anthem was never meant to do more than provide a beat the military could march to

In 1908, musician Bartolomé Pérez de las Casas was ordered by King Alfonso III to adapt the military tune but, while some of the musical arrangements have stayed until today, it remained without words. The following year Eduardo Marquina was ordered to compose verses to the anthem. But his lyrics “Glory, glory / crown of the homeland / light queen / gold is your flag / life life / future of the homeland / which in your eyes is / an open heart” didn’t stick.

The Spanish dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera also had a go, ordering the Cádiz-born poet José María Pemán to compose lyrics. He came back with “Long live Spain! / Advance to the front / children of the Spanish people / who resurge once again.” But not only did the lyrics fail to stick, they were never included as part of the official national anthem.

In 1942 and 1950, dictator Francisco Franco tried with little success to revive the version by Pemán (the word “front” was replaced with “arms,” in reference to the fascist salute).

The last attempt was in 2007, when the Spanish Olympic Committee organized a public competition to put lyrics to the anthem. Paulino Cubero beat 7,000 other proposals with his version “Long live Spain! / We sing together / with different voices / and one heart.” But the just days after the new song debuted, the Olympic Committee decided to withdraw the song, citing lack of consensus.

Since then, there have been sporadic personal performances from everyone from Joaquín Sabina in 2012 to that of Spanish singer Leonardo Dantés, and now Sánchez.

For now however, Spain’s official national anthem remains as is – without lyrics.

English version by Melissa Kitson.

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