Saturday, August 09, 2008

Para Comprender...LA BAMBA

A catchy dance tune, and a racial stereotype for those who think Mexicans are loud and babbling and prone to screaming "arriba" and other strange words, "La Bamba" was a big hit as sung by Ritchie Valens (Valenzuela), who had a shortened name and a shortened life, dying in the infamous February 3, 1959 plane crash that took away Buddy Holly and "Big Bopper" J.P. Richardson.
Ritchie's slurred-up raved-up delivery of the lyrics didn't exactly help the average kid taking Spanish 101 understand what the hell he was singing, but lyrics to a dance tune aren't too important. A loose translation: "If you want to dance La Bamba, you gotta be a little 'crazy.'" Or wild. The rest of the lines are pretty much "get up, get going" and do it "faster." At one point he sings "I'm not a sailor, I'm a captain."
Now that usted comprende las palabras de "La Bamba," it's time to hear Valens and three different cover versions. There's Las Lobos for a fresh stereo take, The Chipmunks to accentuate how incomprehensible the words are, and a live version from Belle Perez, who not only presents the femme side, but is the only one who actually sings the words clearly.
So go ahead, do "La Bamba" (the song, not that guy in Conan O'Brien's band). Come to think of it, this is one of the rare dance tunes that didn't give a clue on how to dance. Some songs were nothing BUT instructions ("Ballin' the Jack") and other songs, if you didn't know how to do the twist, mashed potato, Freddie or swim, the singer would tell you or everyone in the room would be doing the same thing. Just how you properly do "la bamba," is a question maybe only Elaine Benes could answer.

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