Serenading the Music and Events of Tokyo Olympics

Tokyo Olympics

By Isidore Emeka Uzoatu

At last, the games of the XXXII Olympiad (Tokyo 2020) have come and gone. After all the COVID-19 induced delays that saw it held a year later, there is no gainsaying that it still met the razzmatazz associated with the extravaganza. Ranging from controversies, inconsistencies to achievements, it served it all up in its delicious potpourri.

Remarkably, though, most of the events went on with only the competitors and officials in attendance. No thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But notwithstanding, records were still set, met and shattered. So much that what now remains of it are the fading memories of the month-long games.

Most reminiscent of it here in Nigeria is our inability, as always, to make any notable marks in the medal table. As almost always, we made do with a meagre harvest of solitary silver and bronze medals by two ladies in the team. It saw us finishing a distant 75th of the 86 nations that won medals out of the 206 that participated.

However, not unlike the games preceding it, it left a plethora of memories and concerns. Apart from the various winners and losers in the many events it showcased, that is. The first post-Bolt Olympics, it produced a new sprint champion. Just as the Brazilians won their second soccer gold ahead – of us, I dare say.

That apart, here in Nigeria it once more raised some issues. One is the perennial disparity between the officials and athletes that we parade to the games and our eventual haul of medals. Only that this time as many as ten athletes from our contingent could not participate at all for missing off-season drug tests.

Anyway, most prominent in these eddies left by the Tokyo games in the wake of its tide elsewhere are its music themes. Like has become traditional, each host nation never lost the opportunity it offered to advertise its musical legacies. Dating back to the birth of the modern Olympics, this has become a routine every host nation ever laboured to meet.

Most notable remains the British effort at London 2012. Apart from a reunification of the Spice Girls, it featured a performance of a medley of their impressive international chartbusters. It featured bands ranging from Queen ‘We Will Rock You’, Pink Floyd ‘Wish You Were Here’, Madness ‘Our House’ to Oasis ‘Wonderwall’.

Memorably, it closed with Paul McCartney singing the Beatles classic ‘Hey Jude’ to the rapturous entertainment of the pre-Covid crowd.

Worthy of mention also is Celio Dion’s rendition of ‘The Power of the Dream’ at the 1996 games in Atlanta where our soccer team captured the ‘mother of all gold medals’. Composed for the event, her rendition of it on the Olympic podium drove the message home like Jesse Owen’s triumph at 1936 in Berlin.

All the same, prior to 1996, Montserrat Caballe the Spanish soprano had been billed to open Barcelona 1992 with Freddie Mercury of Queen dueting the eponymous games anthem. Sadly, Mercury died of AIDS in 1991 and she had to go it alone.

So, quite expectedly, the opening ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 event featured music. Most of them inevitably came from the many video games the Japanese have bequeathed the world. This included the soundtracks from such famous series like Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, Sonic the Hedgehog, Soulcalibur and a host of others.

However, very instructive was the fact that once more an opening ceremony of an Olympic Games featured a performance of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s song ‘Imagine’. This time it was performed by John Legend, Keith Urban, Alejandro Sanz, Angelique Kidjo and the Suginami Junior Chorus just ‘before doves were released as a symbol of peace’.

Before then, the deathless song was performed at the 1996 games in Atlanta by Stevie Wonder. Just like it had been re-rendered by ex-Genesis Peter Gabriel in the Turin 2006 winter games. Also, a children’s choir sang it as part of the closing ceremonies of the 2012 summer games in London.

Interestingly, the International Olympic Committee noted in a statement that Lennon himself saw a connection between the song and the Olympics. As reported in the Rolling Stone magazine, before his assassination in 1980 he had this to say to an interviewer: ”We’re not the first to say ‘Imagine No Countries’ or ‘Give Peace a Chance’, but we’re carrying that torch like the Olympic torch, passing it hand to hand, to each other, to each country, to each generation. And that’s our job.”

Nevertheless, it did not pass without a backlash this time. Shortly afterwards, Robert Barron, the auxiliary Catholic bishop of Los Angeles took to the New York Post to lambast the effort. According to him, in the op-ed piece published barely two days later, the song is ‘an invitation to moral and political chaos.’

He was to buttress the assertion in an in-depth critique of the lyrics of the three stanzas of the song. Regarding the first, he explained that to deny heaven and hell amounted to saying ‘there is no absolute criterion of good and evil’.

Going on, Bishop Barron insisted that there was the need in the world to have a ‘way of meaningfully determining the difference between right and wrong’.

Calling the song a ‘totalitarian anthem’, he, in conclusion, urged people to go ahead and enjoy its tune but to by all means refuse to ‘abide by the lyrics.’


*Isidore Emeka Uzoatu, author of the novel Vision Impossible, wrote in from Onitsha.