Academics and musicians are facing a backlash over their demands to axe Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory from Last Night of the Proms after they claimed the anthems represent ‘racist imperial propaganda’ that ‘celebrate the British Empire’.
Campaigner Inaya Folarin Iman said criticism of either of the songs was ‘absurd,’ amid claims the BBC was set to axe the songs in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
The broadcaster is considering dropping the patriotic songs from the Last Night concert due to fears of criticism because of their apparent links to colonialism and slavery, the Times reported.
Speaking to Good Morning Britain, Professor Kehinde Andrews said: ‘I don’t think it’s about banning the songs, it’s about saying what songs are appropriate.
‘”Britons never, never, never shall be slaves,” – that’s racist propaganda at a time when Britain was the leading slave trading nation in the world. The idea that we’re having this conversation now, that’s a disgrace.
His comments were echoed by musicians Chi-chi Nwanoku and Wasfi Kani, who are both uncomfortable with the line ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves’.
Professor of Black Studies Kehinde Andrews clashed with campaigner Inaya Folarin Iman on Good Morning Britain today during a debate over whether songs like Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia should be left out of BBC Proms
Chi-chi Nwanoku, founder of the Chineke! Foundation, which supports upcoming BAME musicians,h told The Guardian: ‘The lyrics are just so offensive, talking about the ‘haughty tyrants’ – people that we are invading on their land and calling them haughty tyrants – and Britons shall never be slaves, which implies that it’s OK for others to be slaves but not us.
‘It’s so irrelevant to today’s society. It’s been irrelevant for generations, and we seem to keep perpetuating it.’
‘If the BBC are talking about Black Lives Matter and their support for the movement, how could you possibly have Rule Britannia as the last concert – in any concert?’
Wasfi Kani, founder of Grange Park Opera, raised concern with the same line on slavery.
She told BBC Radio Four: ‘I’m Indian, my parents came from India, I received a wonderful education in Britain, but I don’t actually feel very British when I hear things like that.
‘I don’t feel very British when I have people say to me “go home p***.”‘
The musician instead suggested the songs could be replaced with I Vow to Thee My Country or The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love.
Campaigner Inaya Folarin Iman argued: ‘Many things are being done in the names of ethnic minorities, protecting them and stopping them being offended, when that’s simply not how they feel and I’m being spoken for when actually his song brings a lot of people joy and happiness.
‘The majority of people don’t listen to the song and go “oh we want to reimpose colonialism and slavery,” songs can take on new meaning, it’s become part of a new story that represents pride.’
Inaya Folarin Iman said it was ‘absurd’ to call either of the songs racist and imperialist propaganda
British anthems Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory could be axed from the BBC Proms amid the Black Lives Matter movement, an insider has claimed. Pictured: The Last Night of the Proms in 2012
Insiders at the BBC have claimed the songs could be dropped in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
Dalia Stasevska, who is conducting the Last Night on September 12, is said to believe ‘a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change.’
‘Dalia is a big supporter of Black Lives Matter,’ a source added.
Prof Andrews said: ‘The fact that the majority of people think this is okay doesn’t mean it’s okay doesn’t mean its okay, that’s because of a deficit in our school system that don’t teach the horrors of the British Empire.
‘It’s not something to celebrate.
Dalia Stasevska, who is conducting the Last Night on September 12, is said to believe ‘a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change’
‘Land of hope and glory, a much more reasonable name for the song would have been land of racism and servitude.
I understand that’s not a catchy song, but that’s the nature of the country we’re talking about.’
Professor Andrews, who told GMB he does not watch BBC Proms, was accused of having a ‘one dimensional view of Britain,’ by Ms Iman.
She added: ‘He sees it as a land of racism and hate and all of these things, that’s completely and fundamentally divorced from what most people believe to Britain.
‘We recognise that it has a complex history full of horror and terror but also triumph and uplifting things.
‘I think we need to teach history holistically and not try and teach a narrative of cultural self loathing, which I think is very divisive. I don’t think this helps a single ethnic minority life.
‘I find it very hypocritical that a lot of people don’t have a problem with music that talks about stabbing and violence and the n word this and the n word that, but a song that brings a lot of joy to the British people is somehow an issue of censorship.’
Flag-waving crowds will be absent from London’s Royal Albert Hall during the 125th annual Last Night of the Proms concert due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Stasevska, 35, will compile the concert’s programme alongside Proms director David Pickard, 60, and South African vocalist Golda Schultz, 36.
Rule, Britannia is typically performed by around 80 members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra alongside a chorus of more than 100 singers.
But this year, the orchestra is expected to be around half its usual size due to social distancing guidelines introduced by the Government in the wake of the pandemic.
Only 18 singers are expected to perform.
In other measures introduced amid the Covid-19 outbreak, performers will have their temperatures checked on arrival and robotic cameras will replace human operators.
Jan Younghusband, head of BBC music TV commissioning, has confirmed the content of the Last Night concert is still under review.
She said: ‘We have a lot of problems about how many instruments we can have. It is hard to know whether it is physically possible to do [Rule Britannia].
‘Some of the traditional tunes, like Jerusalem, are easier to perform … We also don’t know if we’ll be in a worse situation in two weeks’ time.’
Rule, Britannia originates from a poem of the same name by Scottish poet and playwright James Thomson, and was set to music by English composer Thomas Arne in 1740.
Pictured: Protesters at a Black Lives Matter demonstration outside Tottenham police station in London on August 8
It gained popularity in the UK after it was first played in London in 1745 and became symbolic of the British Empire, most closely associated with the British Navy.
The song has been used as part of a number of compositions, including Wagner’s concert overture in D Major in 1837 and Beethoven’s orchestral work, Wellington’s Victory.
Critics have questioned the line ‘Britons never, never, never shall be slaves,’ considering the nation’s involvement in the slave trade.
Its inclusion in the Last Night was previously criticised by BBC columnist Richard Morrison, who put out a call for Rule, Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory to be scrapped from the concert because they are ‘crudely jingoistic’.
Last month, Mr Morrison used his column in the BBC Music Magazine to claim it would be ‘insensitive, bordering on incendiary’ to chant the ‘nationalist’ songs this year in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement.
He took aim at the traditional patriotic pieces, and called for a ‘toe-curling embarrassing anachronistic farrago of nationalistic songs’ to be replaced with a ‘more reflective’ finale which doesn’t ‘provoke offence or ridicule’ – but stopped short of proferring any suggestions.
Instead, the BBC should transform The Proms finale so it ‘reflects the attitudes of its 21st-century performers and audiences, not their Edwardian predecessors’.
The BBC Proms – described by an insider as the ‘Black Lives Matter Proms’ – will kick off its live performances on Friday with a piece by black British composer Hannah Kendall.
The performance will open the final weeks of a ‘virtual’ classical music extravaganza which was planned in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
A new schedule was drawn up with a ‘unique’ first night on July 17 after the original programme for its 125th year was scrapped due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The BBC said the concerts would ‘feature some of the greatest musicians of our time alongside emerging talent’.
The Last Night Of The Proms, to air on BBC One and BBC Two, will be ‘poignant’, ‘unique’ and designed to ‘bring the nation together’.
Live performances will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3, BBC Four and iPlayer.
Dalia Stasevska (pictured front), who is conducting the Last Night on September 12, is said to believe ‘a ceremony without an audience is the perfect moment to bring change’
Stasevska, 35, the second female conductor to be selected for the Last Night, will compile the programme alongside Proms director David Pickard, 60, and South African vocalist Golda Schulz, 36
The first night marked the 250th anniversary year of Beethoven’s birth, with a ‘mash-up’ created by composer, arranger and pianist Iain Farrington.
All five BBC orchestras – the BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC Philharmonic, BBC Concert Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra Of Wales and BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra – took part as well as BBC singers.
The recordings will be brought together digitally and a filmmaker will be hired to bring the ‘Grand Virtual Orchestra’ to life.
BBC Radio 3 will also air previous Proms concerts from the archive and is asking listeners for their favourite moments, while BBC Four will broadcast stand-out Proms each Sunday throughout the festival.
The BBC said: ‘The current situation with Covid-19 means the season we had originally planned is sadly no longer possible.
‘Instead the Proms in 2020 have been re-conceived in a different format, but our aim remains the same – to create the world’s greatest classical music festival by reflecting world-class music-making from leading artists around the globe, highlighting emerging talent, and featuring work by some of today’s most exciting and innovative composers.’
BBC Proms director David Pickard said: ‘These are challenging times for our nation and the rest of the world, but they show that we need music and the creative industries more than ever.
‘This year it is not going to be the Proms as we know them, but the Proms as we need them.
‘We will provide a stimulating and enriching musical summer for both loyal Proms audiences and people discovering the riches we have to offer for the first time.’
A spokesman for the BBC said: ‘We are still finalising arrangements for the Last Night of the Proms so that we are able to respond to the latest advice in regards to Covid-19 and deliver the best offering possible for audiences.
‘We have announced that conductor Dalia Stasevska, soprano Golda Schultz and the BBC Symphony Orchestra will perform at the Last Night of the Proms this year. Full details will be announced nearer the time of the concert (12 September).’
The Last Night Of The Proms, to air on BBC One and BBC Two, will be ‘poignant’, ‘unique’ and designed to ‘bring the nation together’. Pictured: The event in 2018