Monday, February 8, 2010

Music from the Empire


The other evening, after a lecture by the Chief of the Defense Staff of the Canadian Forces, I was working on a book review about Ireland for the Canadian Journal of History, reading up on British history for my comprehensive exams and outlining a course covering British counterinsurgency in South Africa, Ireland, Malaya and elsewhere. In keeping with the mood, I put on a variety of music from around the Empire, some of which I thought I would share here. (Be warned: some typically cheesy slideshows - the price of finding music on YouTube - follow. However, the Bok van Blerk video is pretty cool.)

Bok van Blerk - De La Rey

This song is a tribute to Koos de la Rey, a Boer general during the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902). The song has been a source of some controversy, not so much because of what it says about the past, but because of what it may (or may not) say about the present. If you'd like a translation of the Afrikaner lyrics, there are some subtitles here.

Scotland the Brave

This pipe tune was written around 1900. It is the regimental quick march of the Royal Regiment of Scotland and has spread sufficiently far that it is the pipe march of the British Columbia Dragoons and is played at the Citadel in South Carolina. (Notice that this rendition is performed by the Royal Tank Regiment's band.) In the course of its history, lyrics were written for the tune, first by Cliff Hanley and most famously by John McDermott (whose version sometimes goes by the title of Scotland Forever). The McDermott version has a particular place in my heart because of a little episode which took place in Germany in the summer of 2004. I was out hiking with a few Germans, some other Americans and a fellow from Singapore. At one point in the hike I began whistling Scotland the Brave and the Singaporean chimed in; soon we were singing our way through several verses together. The Germans inquired as to what we were singing, and when we told them it was a Scottish song they were rather baffled: neither of us were from Scotland, nor were we even from the same country (or the same side of the globe!). How was it that we both knew this song? The broad spread of Anglophonic culture was a marvel they could not quite understand...

Stan Rogers - Barrett's Privateers

Though the characters and ship involved in this song are fictional, the circumstances were quite real: during the American Revolution, a large number of privateers sailed on each side, with Halifax serving as a major center for British vessels. Roger's effort to breath new life into Canadian folk culture by means of traditional musical styles and themes from Canadian history is quite interesting, probably worthy of a blog post itself, though I'm afraid I'm not the one to write it.


Show of Hands - Roots

This song saw some controversy when the dubious British National Party picked up the music of Show of Hands and other British folk groups (including Fairport Convention), unbeknown to the artists. When the musicians found out, they were not happy, the Telegraph reports. However, a careful listen reveals that the lyrics, though proud of England and her traditional culture, are hardly the stuff of white supremacy. Indeed, they look admiringly to other cultures which have more effectively preserved their folkways.
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