Ritchie Valens – La Bamba

Our hotel is full of Spanish guests, so one of the songs I sing with and for them! Translation and background information after the jump.

Baila bamba 
dance the bamba 

para bailar la bamba
in order to dance the bamba 

una poca de gracia
a little bit of grace 

ay arriba y arriba 
ah higher and higher 

para bailar la bamba 
in order to dance the bamba 

se necesita una poca de gracia
a little bit of grace is needed 

una poca de gracia 
a little grace 

y otra cosita
and another little thing 

y arriba y arriba 
and higher and higher 

ay arriba y arriba 
ah higher and higher 

arriba iré arriba iré 
higher I will go, higher I will go 

arriba me iré 
higher I will take myself

baila bamba 
dance the bamba 

para bailar la bamba
in order to dance the bamba 

una poca de gracia 
a little bit of grace 

ay arriba y arriba 
ah higher and higher 

yo no soy marinero
I am not a sailor 

yo no soy marinero
I am not a sailor 

por ti seré, por ti seré
for you I’ll be, for you I’ll be

para bailar la bamba 
in order to dance the bamba 

se necesita una poca de gracia
a little bit of grace is needed 

ay arriba y arriba 
ah higher and higher

(source)

“La Bamba” 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. The traditional aspect of “La Bamba” lies in the tune itself, 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”.

The traditional “La Bamba” is often played during weddings in Veracruz, where the bride and groom perform the accompanying dance. Today this wedding tradition is not done as frequently as 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”, literally meaning “I am not a sailor, I am a captain”; Veracruz is a maritime locale.

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 drummer Earl Palmer and session guitarist Carol Kaye, making the song accessible to a much wider record audience and earning it (and Valens) a place in rock history (inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001). 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. Valens obtained the lyrics from his aunt Ernestine Reyes and learned the Spanish lyrics phonetically, as he had been raised from birth speaking English.

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