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"La Bamba" (pronounced [la ˈβamba]) is a Mexican folk song, originally from the state of Veracruz, best known from a 1958 adaptation by Ritchie Valens, a top 40 hit in the U.S. charts and one of early rock and roll's best-known songs. Valens' version of "La Bamba" is included in Robert Christgau's "Basic Record Library" of 1950s and 1960s recordings—published in Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981)—and ranked number 345 on Rolling Stone magazine′s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. It is the only song on the list sung in a language other than English.
"La Bamba" has been covered by numerous artists, most notably by Los Lobos, whose version was the title track of the 1987 film La Bamba and reached No. 1 in the U.S. and UK singles charts in the same year. The Los Lobos version remained No. 1 for three weeks in the summer of 1987. The music video for Los Lobos' version, directed by Sherman Halsey, won the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film.
"La Bamba" is a classic example of the son jarocho musical style, which originated in the Mexican state of Veracruz and combines Spanish, indigenous, and African musical elements. The song is typically played on one or two arpas jarochas (harps) along with guitar relatives the jarana jarocha and the requinto jarocho. Lyrics to the song vary greatly, as performers often improvise verses while performing. However, versions such as those by musical groups Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlan and Los Pregoneros del Puerto have survived because of the artists' popularity. The traditional aspect of "La Bamba" lies in the tune, which remains almost the same through most versions. The name of the dance, which has no direct English translation, is presumably connected with the Spanish verb bambolear, meaning "to shake" or perhaps "to stomp". Or the name may perhaps be derived from the kimbundu word "mbamba" meaning "master" as in someone who does something adeptly or skillfully.
A traditional huapango song, "La Bamba" is often played during weddings in Veracruz, where the bride and groom perform the accompanying dance. Today this wedding tradition is observed less often than in the past, but the dance is still popular, perhaps through the popularity of ballet folklórico. The dance is performed displaying the newly wed couple's unity through the performance of complicated, delicate steps in unison as well as through creation of a bow from a listón, a long red ribbon, using only their feet.
The "arriba" (literally "up") part of the song suggests the nature of the dance, in which the footwork, called "zapateado", is done faster and faster as the music tempo accelerates. A repeated lyric is "Yo no soy marinero, soy capitán", meaning "I am not a sailor, I am the captain"; Veracruz is a maritime locale.
Although an obscure and possibly non-existent 1908 Mexican recording has been cited, the earliest certain recording of the song is that by Alvaro Hernández Ortiz, credited as El Jarocho, which was released on the Victor label in Mexico in about 1939 (Victor 76102). This recording was reissued on a 1997 compilation by Yazoo Records, The Secret Museum Of Mankind Vol. 4.
According to a 1945 article in Life magazine, the song and associated dance were brought "out of the jungle" at Veracruz by American bandleader Everett Hoagland, who introduced it at Ciro's nightclub in Mexico City. It became popular, and the song was adopted by Mexican presidential candidate Miguel Alemán Valdés who used it in his successful campaign. Later in 1945, the music and dance were introduced at the Stork Club in New York City by Arthur Murray. A popular version by Andrés Huesca (1917–1957) and his brother Victor, billed as Hermanos Huesca, was issued on Peerless Records in Mexico in about 1945–46. Huesca re-recorded the song for RCA Victor in 1947, and the same year the song featured as a production number in the MGM musical film Fiesta, performed by a group called Los Bocheros and with the songwriting credited to Luis Martinez Serrano.
The Swedish-American folk singer William Clauson recorded the song in several languages in the early and mid 1950s. He claimed to have heard the song in Veracruz, and in performance slowed down the tempo to encourage audience participation. Another version, "somewhat bowdlerized", was recorded by Cynthia Gooding on her 1953 Elektra album, Mexican Folk Songs. The song was also recorded for the French market in 1956 by Juanita Linda and her backing group Los Mont-Real. The same year, Harry Belafonte reportedly recorded the song, but a version by Belafonte was not commercially released until a live recording made at Carnegie Hall in 1960.
Ritchie Valens' version
|Single by Ritchie Valens|
|from the album Ritchie Valens|
|Released||October 18, 1958|
|Songwriter(s)||adapted by Ritchie Valens|
|Ritchie Valens singles chronology|
The traditional song inspired Ritchie Valens' rock and roll version "La Bamba" in 1958. Valens' "La Bamba" infused the traditional tune with a rock drive, in part provided by session musicians Earl Palmer and Carol Kaye, making the song popular with a much wider record audience and earning it (and Valens) a place in rock history (he was inducted posthumously into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001). The musicians on that session were Buddy Clark: string bass, Ernie Freeman: piano, Carol Kaye: acoustic rhythm guitar, René Hall: Danelectro guitar (six-string baritone guitar), Earl Palmer: drums and claves, Ritchie Valens: vocals, lead guitar.
The song features a simple verse-chorus form. Valens, who was proud of his Mexican heritage, was hesitant at first to merge "La Bamba" with rock and roll but then agreed. The song ranked No. 98 in VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll in 1999, and No. 59 in VH1's 100 Greatest Dance Songs in 2000. Furthermore, Valens' recording of the song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame.
When the Los Lobos cover of Valens' version peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987, Valens was retroactively credited with writing a No. 1 single.
In 2019, Valens' version was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Recording Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". Also is included in the Rock n roll Hall of fame's list "500 songs that shaped rock n roll".
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||13|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||49|
|US Billboard Hot 100||22|
Trini Lopez' version
Trini Lopez performed his own version of "La Bamba" on his album Trini Lopez Live at PJs, released in 1963; this recording of the tune was later reissued as a single in 1966.
Los Lobos version
|Single by Los Lobos|
|from the album La Bamba Original Motion Picture Soundtrack|
|Released||June 20, 1987|
|Los Lobos singles chronology|
The music video for Los Lobos' version of the song was directed by Sherman Halsey and featured Lou Diamond Phillips (who played Valens in the film named after the song). The music video was the winner of the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film.
In the video, the band performs at a carnival in front of a merry-go-round at night. In between, clips from the movie are shown. While they are performing, the carnival-goers dance near and on stage. Phillips joins the band for the song's final chorus. At the end of the music video, in the morning, the band is still playing on their acoustic guitars (with Phillips present) on the empty carnival grounds while janitors clean up around them.
|Australia (Kent Music Report)||1|
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||3|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||2|
|Canada Top Singles (RPM)||1|
|Germany (Official German Charts)||7|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||2|
|New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)||1|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||1|
|UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)||1|
|US Billboard Hot 100||1|
|US Billboard Country Songs||57|
|US Billboard Adult Contemporary||4|
|US Billboard Latin Songs||1|
|US Billboard Hot Mainstream Rock Tracks||11|
|Poland (Polish Airplay Top 100)||75|
Certifications and sales
|Canada (Music Canada)||Platinum||100,000^|
|United States (RIAA)||2x Platinum||2,000,000^|
^shipments figures based on certification alone
Other notable versions
In 1963, Glen Campbell recorded the song on his album The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell. In 1979, singer Antonia Rodriguez recorded a disco version which hit number thirty-four on the American disco chart. In 1980, singer Perla recorded a version on her Spanish album. In Los Lonely Boys, a rock trio from Texas, often include the song in their live stage act. They cite Valens as an influence in their music. "Weird Al" Yankovic included a parody of the song, titled "Lasagna", on his album, Even Worse. The song focuses on stereotypical Italian culture and cuisines. The song also heavily featured an accordion.
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