The Making of a Country: Creating a National Anthem in South Sudan

Sunday, January 09, 2011 - 07:59 AM

The Freedom Boyz, a self-described dance music group who entered South Sudan's contest for a new national anthem. The Freedom Boyz, a music group who entered South Sudan's contest for a new national anthem: Wonlok James, who performs as W.J.; Robert Mogga, who performs as D. Mogga; and a friend "Rough Monkey." (Noel King/The Takeaway)

On Friday night at Juba's Nyakuron cultural center, some of southern Sudan's most popular young musicians played to cheering crowds in a concert celebrating the upcoming referendum. 

I went to the event to try and track down the winners of southern Sudan's national anthem contest. I've been preoccupied with this story since August, when a southern military spokesman told the BBC that a contest was underway to choose who would sing the official anthem. If southern Sudanese vote on Sunday to secede from the north and form their own nation, they'll have to start from scratch in many ways. That means drawing new borders, electing new leaders, making new passports ... and writing a new national song. 

Perhaps the most interesting part: the lyrics were written by a committee that included members of the government and military. Imagine, in the US, if our Congress and Marine Corps were tasked with writing the national anthem. 

My initial attempts to find the winner met with no success. I lurked outside the office of the cultural center's president for nearly an hour. No luck — he was out on business. 

I'd almost given up when a young musician and producer calling himself Captain Eddie told me that he could introduce me to the winners. 

I'd already seen Johnny Joseph and Lazarus Okeny — who perform as the band J2 Guys — sing for the cheering crowd. And while I can't confirm they are the winners, what they're singing are indeed the lyrics to the new anthem. 

The Freedom Boyz, a self-described dance music group weren't entirely impressed with the soaring tune. They sat a few hundred yards away and they'd clearly heard Johnny and Lazarus perform before. They told me they'd entered the contest too. Why didn't they win? "We withdrew our song," said Robert Mogga, who performs as D. Mogga. 

But they did sing it for me.

Here's "The Weather Has Changed and the Life has Changed." Most of the song is sung in the southern Sudanese Arabic dialect, but they explained that the charged lyrics highlight the animosity between North and South. "Before, they could arrest you, put you in a sack and throw you in the water. Nobody could talk about it; but the river is our witness."

Listen to the band, J2 Guys, sing the lyrics to the new national anthem:

Sudan, votes
Noel King/The Takeaway

An elderly Catholic nun makes her way to the polling station at St. Josephine Bakhita School. Hundreds of southern Sudanese waited patiently in the sun for up to three hours in order to cast their votes.

Sudan, votes
Noel King/The Takeaway

Men and women waited in separate lines. Sick and older people were allowed to go the front of the line. Here, a group of men waits their turn.

Sudan, votes
Noel King/The Takeaway

After voting, poll workers inked the inside of voters' fingers. A Sudanese woman shows off her inked hand and her voter card.

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