What Mexican Song Do You Know Best?

For the majority of English speakers, I’m guessing the answer may be:

Para bailar la Bamba, para bailar la Bamba se necesita un poco de gracia.

In order to dance the Bamba…one needs a bit of grace.

Ricardo Valenzuela (Ritchie Valens) brought La Bamba into the rock and roll scene of the 1950s. Then Los Lobos made the song even more famous in the 70s. The original music that inspired both bands was quintessential son jarocho, a centuries-old tradition from Veracruz, Mexico. The Mexican-American musicians took a loan from the rich Afro-Mexican heritage of the country of their ancestors.

State of Veracruz, Mexico. Image: Lokal_Profil, CC-BY-SA-2.5.

Jarocho (Ha-ro-cho) is an adjective that means a person or thing from the Eastern Mexican state of Veracruz. Several centuries ago the word referred to people of African heritage from Veracruz. Now it is all the people, dances, music and culture from that region. People say their origin with pride,  (Soy jorocho / Soy jarocha ( I am a Jarocho. – for a man /…Jorocha – for a woman)

The source of the word jarocho is debated. The explanation of researchers Rosalba Quintana Bustamante and Jairo E. Jiménez Sotero has the ring of truth. When the Spanish brought cattle to New Spain, the Indigenous people were not accustomed to working with large beasts. The slaves captured from West Africa had experience with herding animals. The African workers were employed on ranches, first as slaves, then as they intermarried with Indian women, their children were free people as mentioned in Part I of this series. In Spanish tradition, the Africans used a jara, a long stick, to guide the cows. From the word jara, came jarocho.

Just like the term itself, the music from Veracruz has important African background. The rhythms, the improvisation of the instruments (similar to jazz, with solos), and the call and response of the vocals all are rooted in the African heritage of the Jarochos (people of Veracruz). Son jarocho has the tradition of never playing the same song the same way twice. Mixed with these African foundations are Spanish melodies, Spanish words, string instruments, flamenco rhythms and Indigenous musical traditions. The three roots of Mexico braid nicely in this Veracruz sound.

We were fortunate to see the Amalia Hernández dance company here in Madison and I wrote a post about traditional Mexican dances. La Bamba is exciting live as the couples dance on a wooden platform called a tarima, making rhythms with their feet. In Veracruz this was a wedding dance tradition. View a video of Amalia Hernández’s Ballet Foklórico Mexicano performing the song. Want a sampler? Check Folkwaves for a list of 21 son jarocho songs, with short audio clips (scroll down past the Spanish lesson plan : )

This concludes Part III of my series on Afro-Mexicans. Follow these links for Part I or Part II. African slaves and free people were key in the transformation of New Spain into the triad culture of Mexico: a Spanish, African and Indigenous mestizo. I’ve only scratched the surface of this five century-long history. I enjoyed the research and learned many new facts and a few new songs.

What is your favorite Mexican song? My favorite son jarocho is Cascabel; the video link on the name of the song is of a great mariachi group that is 75% female! Las mañanitas (Mexican birthday song) is my favorite serenade song from Mexico. Imagine waking up on your birthday to the sound of trumpets and guitars outside your bedroom window (“wake up my dear, wake up,” say the lyrics). Hope you’re a morning person…

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco. Olé! (or, Bamba Bamba, Bamba Bamba…) –Rebecca

The Moment Before Dancing La Bamba, Photo Credit: Jesús Reyes Chávez
Rebecca Cuningham

12 thoughts on “What Mexican Song Do You Know Best?

  1. My earliest memories of a song in Spanish (or part of) would be Doris Day’s “Que sera, sera” “what will be, will be”. I love music so I’ve been listening to Latin music as much as possible here in Colombia in an effort to pick up more vocabulary, poco a poco. 🙂
    Argentinian Mercedes Sosa is one of my favorites. Her songs are slow and her pronunciation is clear which makes her music a good learning tool.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Cielito Lindo – claro que si!

    Soy finlandés que ama la música del sur y centroamericana. Mi musica favorita es la Cumbia. Sus orígenes provienen de Colombia. Se diferencia en muchos países, pero su ritmo es distinto. Tengo el ritmo en mi sangre lo que significa que amo la música con ritmo, música bailable y feliz. Aquí hay un ejemplo de la cumbia colomiana:

    El Diario De Un Borracho

    ¡Un saludo grande¡

    Liked by 2 people

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