Translating songs and the National Anthem.

When my brother JC was in his teens, he started a band with some classmates. It evolved from a “hey, let’s gather in Camacho’s (there was another kid with his same name in his class, so he went by our surname around his friends) house to bang on drums!” to a Christian music ministry. At one point, he asked me for some help in translating a song.

What exactly were my qualifications at the time? Back then, it would never have occurred to me that I would become a translator. I cannot play any instruments. I have no sense of rhythm and can’t even play the palitos or shake maracas in tune for a parranda. And while I have performed in school and church choir, I am not likely to record a solo album. Trust me: you do not want to hear me sing.

Apparently, however, I was good in English, and that was sufficient.

There has been a lot of controversy lately about the Spanish translation of “The Star-Spangled Banner”: how it is not really a translation, but a rewriting. Let’s set aside the politics (and my own personal opinions) for one minute. As hard as it is to translate poetry, translating songs is no picnic. I suspect it would have been extremely difficult, if not impossible, to write a translation that:

  • did not reflect the particular translator’s biases and opinions;
  • still managed to work with the meter of the national anthem;
  • accomplished both objectives above and came across, not as a translation, but as rendition of patriotic sentiments.

I wish I had the answer.


One Response to “Translating songs and the National Anthem.”

  1. Justin Says:

    Hi, there’s a blog that talks about just how hard it is to replicate a song’s beauty in a translation. It also has a link to a site with tons of translated songs if you’re interested. It’s here:

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