The Sound of Nations: How Anthems Redefine Borders and Unite People
Sound is the glue that holds nations and cultures together, especially newly formed, recently united or divided nations or cultures. Whether it’s the wordless national anthem of Kosovo or the Grateful Dead’s post-hippy rock that defined the jam generation, anthems can help solidify the idea of a nation even when it’s not a geographic one.
Behemoth Spanish-Language broadcast channel Univision used sound to seize just such an opportunity. Its audience is a rapidly growing demographic of Americans who, according to Pew Research, represent an entire emerging middle class. Generically grouped as “Hispanics” or “Latinos,” they actually come from several parts of the world. Our team at Man Made Music, along with branding experts and Univision’s lead marketing execs, created the sonic strategy that would put the network and the company behind it at the center of this movement.
The key to creating a unifying anthem for the largest Spanish language network in the world came down to specific word choices and the way players used one instrument in particular: the accordion. This instrument is where the cultural legacies of Mexico and the Caribbean intersect. If the accordion in Univision’s anthem carried the melody (the notes) in a way that sounded something like polka, the network would speak too directly to Mexican contingencies with their European lineage. Used as more of a rhythm instrument (the beat), the same accordion would speak to Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, and people with Caribbean or African cultural heritage. Like other anthems, Univision’s anthem had to speak to everyone in its potential audience and show up wherever they experienced the brand.
Lyrics tell rich stories, too — not just the meanings of the words but how they were pronounced. Just as some instruments have cultural connotations, so do some words. For example, some Caribbean people tend to drop the consonants at the ends of words and let the vowels hang. So vamonos (let’s go) becomes vamano. The Man Made Music and Univision teams had to work to integrate lyrics that spoke to every nation.
And different countries have different preferences:
China goes more for music with orchestral sweep, for example, which equates with traditional emotion. Brazil uses percussion to play to the pulse of the people; India mixes modern and indigenous instruments for unique results. The UK has a greater appetite for electronic instrumentation, even among broad audiences for programs such as the BBC News. Japan loves jazz — even more than listeners in the U.S. (jazz artists that only book small clubs stateside sell out arenas and stadium in Japan.)
In the end, the anthem for Univision sounds like a celebration. Baked from a blend of traditions from both Mexican and Caribbean musical sensibilities (and, yes, with prominent electronic textures and an authentic accordion), it sounds like the vibrant cross-section of contemporary Latin and Anglo pop-music culture, which was part of Univision’s mission for mainstream appeal.
Music works across cultures and connects people across the globe. For example, Electronic Dance Music (EDM) is currently the international music of youth. Orchestral music — pop or classical — is universally appreciated by older audiences. And movie soundtracks worldwide combine these elements for maximum impact.
Sound and music create a link across cultures and can strengthen a nation with or without geographical borders or a generation.
Joel Beckerman is Founder and Lead Composer of Man Made Music. Talk to him on Twitter @joelbeckerman.