The music of politics

Do campaign songs reveal things about the political parties that take them up?

The Nationalist Party’s landmark victory in 1987 was heralded in to the sounds of Europe’s The Final Countdown.
The Nationalist Party’s landmark victory in 1987 was heralded in to the sounds of Europe’s The Final Countdown.

It might be a bit of a stretch to say that campaign songs reveal things about the political parties that take them up.

But a cursory glance at the songs used - be they original numbers or tweaked versions of popular hits - will show that something of a pattern does in fact exist for either party when it comes to determining electoral anthems.

Perhaps the first notable electoral song remains the most memorable one. The Nationalist Party's landmark victory in 1987 was heralded in to the sounds of Europe's The Final Countdown.

The Swedish one-hit-wonder band's most popular hit was given added political gravitas by the events that gripped the nation at the time. It's easy to see how the rousing piece of synch-rock would appeal to an already politically-heated mass, but to some, the song also held prophetic power.

"Looking back, that song carried with it another twist, a sort of anticipation of what was to come in future years. Because that song was recorded by a group called Europe, and that election victory for the Nationalist Party was the first step towards Malta's accession to the European Union," the Malta Independent wrote on the eve of Malta's accession into the EU in 2004, another historic event in Malta's political history.

The Final Countdown is a hard act to follow - in terms of sheer stadium-rock grandiosity - but subsequent electoral songs came close to matching its dramatic appeal. In fact, Modern Talking's We Take the Chance - which samples the Europe song for its intro - was used by the PN in the 1998 elections - hardly a subtle choice given the political context, with lyrics like: 'We'll take the chance - we'll win again/I know my dream - it will come true/We'll take the chance - Don't lose the game/It's a game for me and you'. The Labour Party's choice in 1996 was a far more mellow affair, however, as the PL went for Robert Miles's Children, a calm piece of electronica that was diametrically opposite to the PN's previous anthems. But that choice also seemed to set a precedent, as since then, the PL has tended to select chart hits that would already be popular among the younger population.

In 2008, Labour chose 1988 chart hit The Only Way is Up, performed by Yazz and the Plastic Population, though its chorus was altered slightly, from 'The only way is up, baby' to 'The only way is up, Labour'. The song may have been 20 years old by the time Labour got its hands on it, but the party also came to be associated with another song at the time - the contemporary club hit Rise Up by Yves Larock, which became a mainstay during mass meetings.

Joseph Muscat's reinvention of the Labour Party's image - into that of a group of 'progressives, liberals and moderates' - was given a musical boost with Jon Bon Jovi's We Weren't Born to Follow, which accompanied the party's TV spots and its leader's public appearances. More recently, the party has adopted another popular hit under its wing - David Guetta and Usher's summer hit Without You. However, the version the party has opted for - heard during Labour's general conference last Sunday - was actually an instrumental cover version by The Piano Guys, an American duo made popular by their classical takes on popular hits.

But while choosing international hits may seem like a logical (and easy) choice, original compositions have also proven to be quite popular.

Nghidu Iva ghall-Ewropa, the PN's anthem in the run up to Malta's EU candidature in 2003, had an easy-to-follow chorus that could easily have been sung either in earnest, or mockingly (interestingly, a Google search on the song will give you links to lyrics by 'Christina Aguilera' - creative sabotage, perhaps?)

Labour also released a song to accompany their 'Partnership' lobby (as opposed to wholesale EU accession) around the same time, though its composition proved to be chequered, with singers expressing unease about being asked to perform for the party.

Perhaps going by the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' adage, the PN returned to the 'Iva' tag in 2008.

Its official electoral song was Iva, Flimkien Kollox Possibli, while a 'supplementary' number - Dan Hu l-Mument, sung by 2007 Konkors Kanzunetta Indipendenza winners Priscilla Psaila and Ivan Borg - was also floated about.

Toni Sant, DJ, blogger and lecturer in new media at the University of Hull, described the parties' tendency to rely on foreign songs as an unfortunate example of "cultural colonialism".

"It relates to the general Maltese idea that whatever comes from Britain, the US, Europe (take your pick) is better than what can be produced in Malta.

It shows a lack of national cultural identity, unless the Maltese cultural identity is actually entrenched in its colonial past, rather than its more recent political history. And on it goes..." Sant said.

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