Wednesday, April 22, 2009

"La Bamba" - Ritchie Valens, 1958 (rock)

Para bailar la bamba,
Para bailar la bamba,
Se necesita una poca de gracia.
Una poca de gracia para mi para ti.
Arriba y arriba
Y arriba y arriba, por ti sere,
Por ti sere.
Por ti sere.
Yo no soy marinero.
Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan.
Soy capitan.
Soy capitan.


Para bailar la bamba,
Para bailar la bamba,
Se necesita una poca de gracia.
Una poca de gracia para mi para ti.
Arriba, arriba.

Is there anyone who doesn't know the words (or at least what sound like the words) to this one, even if they don't speak Spanish? Thanks to Ritchie Valens' most famous rendition, this 300 year old folk song from Veracruz, Mexico lives on, even though the tradition behind the song is mostly lost.

In English...

In order to dance the Bamba
In order to dance the Bamba
A little humor is needed
A little grace for me and for you
Faster and faster
Faster and faster
I'll be for you
I'll be for you
I'm not a sailor
I'm not a sailor
I'm captain
I'm captain
I'm captain

It doesn't quite have the same amount of "cool" as it does in Spanish. That's because the lyrics just don't quite translate into English. Like most folk songs, La Bamba came about while commemmorating a specific event, but unlike the tunes we are used to, this one's lyrics have very little to say about the actual event. Surprisingly, the song doesn't tell you how to do the dance, either.

Veracruz was becoming quite wealthy with gold and silver, much of which was being stockpiled, awaiting ocean transport back to Spain. In 1599, because of frequent flooding, the port of Veracruz was moved to the island of San Juan de Ulua. There a fort was built to protect the state from maritime assault on their riches. San Juan de Ulua was nearly impregnable. In fact, in 200 years, there was only successfully assaulted once.

While the fort was safe, the village of 5,000 people was not. On a night in May of 1683, Lorenz de Graaf, who was a Dutch pirate who was locally known as Lorencillo, stole into the village and did exactly what pirates do. He and his men rounded up all of the villagers and locked them all in the village church while he and his men ransacked, burned, and pillaged the town, doing whatever it was they felt like doing. This lasted three days. It was especially hot this time of year, and rather than wait out the onslaught, the some of the villagers climbed to the top of the church's bell tower and leapt to their deaths to escape the heat, confinement, and lack of food and water. When the rampage was over, the pirates took 30 of the villages prettiest girls to Isla de los Sacrificios before returning to ther lair in Laguna de Terminos. The girls were left there for another five days without food and water before help arrived to rescue them.

After that, the villagers of Veracruz and others up and down the Spanish Colonial Empire in the Caribbean lived in fear of further pirate attack. Lorencillo had left the villagers trembling at their own defenselessness and at the possibility of repeat performances from marauding privateers. Most people threatened to leave the colonies and go back to Spain, so the King spent a fortune to wall up the city for their protection. While they had their wall to hide in, there wasn't much of an army or navy to defend it. Consequently, many young men and slaves were conscripted into military service. This makeshift military set up a defense system of bells, alarms, and maueuver drills. In these drills, civilian participation was mandatory. The only problem in all of this was that while it was so elaborate and intricate, it was a response to a single event that had already happened. This kind of invasion had only happened once, and it wasn't likely to happen again. So, essentially they were attempting to prevent something that already happened. The word "Bamba" comes from the Spanish word "Bambarria", which means "to try and prevent something after it has already happened."

Thus, the song was born as a poke in the ribs of the local officials who had become quite pompous in their efforts. The tune caught on and spread among the locals, too, and *poof* instant folk song! The "Arriba, arriba!" part of the song is supposed to suggest the furor of the governmental efforts. The phrase means, "Faster, faster!" which was the attitude of the officials for many years after - build and train faster and faster, hurry up before the pirates strike again! After a few years, however, the people grew weary of the increased drilling (that they still had to participate in) and the vigor of more building, and we have the somewhat suddenly banal repetition of the word, "Bamba" at the end of the chorus, as if to shake one's head and say, "Yeah, yeah, yeah..." As it turns out, the villagers were correct. Veracruz never did experience another pirate attack, and in fact, just 100 years after the Lorencillo incident, Veracruz was instead occupied by foriegn military troops.

It's kind of a shame, but this song's tradition and story have been lost over the years. Traditionally, it was a song that was performed at weddings. The bride and groom would start by slowly stepping in unison. The song would get faster and faster, and their feet would appear to be making the movements of tying a ribbon together. This dance, however, has not been performed traditionally for many years, though, and the history of it is really only preserved in the dances of folk dancers.

Along with this wedding tradition, many of the original lyrics and verses have been lost as well. We know the first verse, which begins "Para bailar la bamba...". Although it doesn't come right out and say it, is a jibe at the pompous officials. Here are the other missing verses:

The second verse is about the people being locked up in the church. The climb to the bell tower (to throw one's self off the roof) required a long climb up a long ladder, and then a shorter climb to the top of the roof.

Para subir al cielo(to go up to heaven)
Para subir al cielo
Se necesita
(you need)
Una escalera grande (a big ladder)
Una escalera grande
Y otra chiquita
(and another small one)
Ay arriba y arriba (and up and up)
Y arriba y arriba,
Arriba iré
(I will go)

We also know the third verse, which begins "Yo no soy marinero". This verse is about the youth and slaves being against the military draft. "Marinero" means "sailor", and nobody in their right mind wanted to be a sailor during the golden age of piracy. Pirates may not have come into fortified ports to do their dirty work, but seagoing vessels were always fair game and almost always taken advantage of. So, no one wanted to be forced into the navy (pirates didn't take prisoners...hint, hint). The recruits would have rather been captains in the army...on land where it was safe. This verse is also repeated in the song, although it has a slight twist at the end, and the words, "Soy Capitan" are replaced with "Pero por tí seré", which means "But for you I will be (one)". These lyrics are possibly to indicate a show of force by the recruitment officer, and the draftee reluctantly resigns himself to service in the navy.

Finally, the last verse of the song follows the repetitive singing of "Bamba", and also reflects how the drilling and attack preparations had gotten old, and the public felt ready to move on:

Ay te pido, te pido!
(Oh, I ask, Oh, I ask)
¡Ay te pido, te pido por compasión(Oh, I ask, Oh, I ask out of compassion)
que se acabe la bamba! (that the bamba be finished)
¡Que se acabe la bamba y venga otro son! (that the bamba be finished and start another song)
Y arriba y arriba, (and hurrah and hurrah)¡Ay! arriba y arriba y arriba iré, (and hurrah and hurrah, and up I will go)
After the alternate occupations of French and US troops in Mexico, during the 1800s this song was reborn and the people of Veracruz began to serenade the foreigners with a new version of it. Not speaking any Spanish, these troops thought it sounded like a quaint little folk song. As the tune was catchyby foreigners, the joke was on them as they walked around singing it - this time, the song's lyrics protested the occupation of Mexico by these foreign invaders.

Here's the song the way it would sound originally, played as a folk tune.

"La Bamba" (Gipsy Kings)

"La Bamba" - Ritchie Valens, 1958 (original Valens version)

And here's a bit of a rattlesnake...the version you might be more familiar with. It's the Los Lobos version that was used in the movie, La Bamba. It's a just a little faster with a little less "Mexico" and a lot more "rock".

"La Bamba" - Los Lobos, from the 1987 movie "La Bamba",starring Lou Diamond Phillips as Ritchie Valens.

And now, let's clear up a couple misconceptions about the movie:

1.) NO - that is NOT Lou Diamond Phillips singing "La Bamba" or any of the other songs in the movie. The singing voice you hear is that of David Hidalgo, guitarist for Mexican-American rock band Los Lobos. Los Lobos performed all of Ritchie's music for the movie, including "Donna".

2.) NO - that is NOT Lou Diamond Phillips playing the guitar in the song. The lead guitar parts there are being played by a woman, Carol Kaye, who is a famous studio recording session musician from the Los Angeles area, who also played for Phil Specter's studio band, The Wrecking Crew.

~Information found from 'cruz-ing the internet and finding ports of call like this:

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Single-Handed Sailor" - Dire Straits, 1979 (blues rock)

Two in the morning dry-dock town
The river rolls in the night
Little gipsy moth she's all tied down
She quiver in the wind and the light

Yeah and a sailing ship is just held down in chains
From the lazy days of sail
She's just a lying there in silent pain
He lean on the tourist rail

A mother and her baby and the college of war
In the concrete graves
You never wanna fight against the river law
Nobody rules the waves
Yeah and on a night when the lazy wind is a-wailing
Around the Cutty Sark
The single handed sailor goes sailing
Sailing away in the dark

He's upon the bridge on the self same night
The mariner of dry dock land
Two in the morning but there's one green light
And a man on a barge of sand

She's gonna slip away below him
Away from the things he's done
But he just shouts 'hey man what you call this thing'
He could have said 'Pride of London'
On a night when the lazy wind is a-wailing
Around the Cutty Sark
Yeah the single handed sailor goes sailing
Sailing away in the dark

"Single Handed Sailor" was released on the Dire Straits CD "Communique" in 1979. In Germany, New Zealand, and Sweden the album went strait to the top of the charts. Lord only knows why this ketch-y little tune didn't get much airplay here in the US. Mark Knopfler wrote this song as a tribute to Sir Francis Chichester, a sailor who was the first (and fastest) person to truly nautically circumnavigate the globe with no crew but himself.

In 1966, Chichester set out from Plymouth, England along the clipper route. The clipper route is the traditional route sailed by clipper ships between Europe, the Far East, and Australia. The route runs through the Southern Ocean in order to make use of the wind system known as The Roaring Forties, located between 40 and 50 degrees latitude. These winds were enough to create rough conditions and sink ships, but they also quickly propelled the clipper ships around the great capes: The Cape of Good Hope (southern tip of Africa), Cape Leeuwin (the southwestern tip of Australia), and Cape Horn (southern tip of S. America). These danger zones became significant landmarks in ocean voyaging. In 1869 and 1914, the Suez and Panama Canals (respectively) made it possible for ships to avoid such southerly travel, which not only saved many lives but also time and money in the delivery of goods; the ships could now sail straight across the globe instead of going all the way around the continents. True global circumnavigation, however, means the sailing vessel rounds all three of these highly dangerous cape areas. Even today, 'round-the-world sailing races incorporate the use of these landmarks, and ironically, despite the installation of the canals, the clipper route is still the fastest way around the world.

A clipper ship is a particular type of commercial ocean-going vessel that is very has multiple masts (means it has lots of sails) and square rigging. The hull of a clipper ship was also quite narrow, but the shape of the rigging and the narrowness of the hull is what earned these ships their name. "Clip" was the English slang term for "to fly or move very quickly". These ships may have been limited in their freight capacity, but they made up for this shortcoming in speed. Chichester's Gipsy Moth IV is only a ketch - a sailing craft with only two masts. This means that while the ship itself is smaller and more easily tossed, it also does not have as many or as large of sails to fill with wind. A yacht's top speed is directly related to it's wetted length. The Gipsy Moth IV was only 53 feet, whereas the clipper ships averaged wetted lengths in the couple-hundred-feet range. The little 53' ketch had a maximum hull speed of only 10 knots, while standard clipper ships averaged lengths of over 100, which meant being capable of more than double the hull speed. So, not only was the little Gipsy Moth IV out sized, out weighed, and out manned, she was also pretty slow as far as clipper ships were concerned (at the time).

Chichester recorded in his log that at Cape Horn, he was rolled in a 140 degree capsize. Good thing his craft was designed to self right. And then he recorded:

"The waves were tremendous. They varied each time, but all were like great sloping walls towering behind you. The kind I liked least was like a great bank of gray-green earth 50' (15 m) high and very steep. Image yourself at the bottom of one. My cockpit was filled five times and once it took more than 15 minutes to drain. My wind-reading machine stopped recording at 60 knots. My self-steering could not cope with the buffeting....I had a feeling of helplessness."

Gipsy Moth IV

Nautical scholars, explorers, and sailors agree that Gipsy Moth IV has to have been the worst racing vessel ever built. Nonetheless it earned Chichester his knighthood and earned the following bragging rights:

-Fastest voyage around the world by any small vessel
-Longest non stop passage that had been made by a small sailing vessel (15,000 miles)
-More than twice the distance of the previous longest passage by a singlehander
-Twice broke the record for a singlehander's week's run by more than 100 miles (160 km)
-Established a record for singlehanded speed by sailing 1,400 miles (2,300 km) in 8 days

Still, Chichester said of it, "Now that I have finished, I don't know what will become of Gipsy Moth IV. I only own the stern while my cousin owns two thirds. My part, I would sell any day. It would be better if about a third were sawn off. The boat was too big for me. Gipsy Moth IV has no sentimental value for me at all. She is cantankerous and difficult and needs a crew of three - a man to navigate, an elephant to move the tiller and a 3'6" (1.1 m) chimpanzee with arms 8' (2.4 m) long to get about below and work some of the gear."

Gipsy Moth IV never raced again after that. When Chichester died, she was put on display in Greenwich, England at a dry dock especially built for two ships that look like a mother and baby. The Gipsy Moth IV is docked with the Cutty Sark, a 212-foot extreme clipper that also ran the clipper race, although at its best it went only from England to China and took 122 days. Despite being the prettier, the larger, the faster, and the more well built of the two vessels, the small, dysfunctional, deteriorating Gipsy Moth IV put all of the Cutty Sark's efforts to shame.

Cutty Sark

"Single Handed Sailor" - Dire Straits, 1979