New-look Spanish anthem sticks in a few throats

Right-wing parties swoon after pop star performs new words to national tune

A pop star’s new version of the Spanish national anthem has sharply divided opinion and unwittingly highlighted a battle for dominance of the country’s political right.

On Sunday, Marta Sánchez, one of Spain's best-known singers, performed a rendition of the anthem, which is titled La Marcha Real (or Royal March), during a concert she gave in Madrid. Unusually, the Spanish anthem has no words, so Sánchez's rendition included her own lyrics.

“Red, yellow, colours which shine in my heart and I do not apologise,” reads one line, in reference to the national flag.

The next says: "Great Spain, I give thanks to God for being born here and honouring you until the end."


La Marcha Real has been Spain's anthem since the 18th century. However, this attempt to update it is widely seen as a response to the country's current territorial crisis, sparked by Catalonia's bid for independence. In recent months an upsurge in patriotic feeling has seen many Spaniards across the country hang the national flag from apartment balconies.

In a Madrid nightclub last autumn, when the crisis was at its peak, a DJ played the national anthem at top volume to clubbers.

"I don't think that writing words to the national anthem should be a priority right now when it comes to trying to convince people of the benefits of national unity," noted Ignacio Escolar, editor of the left-leaning El Diario newspaper. "But if we're going to do it, could we please not talk about God?"

‘Seeks to unite’

But others have been more enthusiastic. Among fans of the rendition was Spain’s civil guard, which tweeted from its official account its support for “an initiative that seeks to unite and create, not divide and take away”.

Even prime minister Mariano Rajoy threw his weight behind the new-look anthem, posting a video of the performance on his Twitter account soon after the concert and stating that "the immense majority of Spaniards feel represented" by it.

Within minutes of Mr Rajoy's tweet, Albert Rivera, leader of Ciudadanos and the prime minister's rival on the political right, posted a similar comment, quoting the lyrics and describing them as "brave and exciting".


Several recent polls have shown Ciudadanos to be either close to or overtaking Mr Rajoy’s governing Popular Party (PP), generating tensions between the two. The PP, which is mired in corruption scandals, has started casting doubt on the finances of Ciudadanos.

Rubén Amón, of El País newspaper, said the prime minister's support for Sánchez's performance showed he was "trying to claw back an image of patriotic leadership" and that both Mr Rajoy and Mr Rivera were employing the same "opportunism and populism".

“It’s not clear which poll,” Amón wrote, “has shown that ‘the immense majority of Spaniards’ share the cheesy, insipid and sentimental words that Marta Sánchez has written.”

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe

Guy Hedgecoe is a contributor to The Irish Times based in Spain