Dear Straight Dope:
I've always liked Richie Valens' classic, "La Bamba." The problem is, my Spanish isn't quite up to speed, and I can't understand what he's singing about. Could you help me out on this? An English translation would be helpful, also.
Arnold Wright Blan
SDStaff Songbird replies:
No problema, Arnold. “La Bamba,” a Mexican folk song from the state of Veracruz (on the Gulf coast), is a favorite of mariachi groups everywhere (long before Richie Valens covered it). Here are the Spanish lyrics:
Para bailar La Bamba. Para bailar La Bamba se necessita una poca de gracia.
Una poca de gracia y otra cosita y arriba y arriba.
Ay! 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.
And now for the English translation:
To dance La Bamba. To dance La Bamba you need to be a little bit funny.
A little bit funny and another little thing — get going, get going! (literally ‘get up and get up’)
Ay! Get going, get going. I’ll be for you, I’ll be for you, I’ll be for you.
I’m not a sailor. I’m not a sailor, I’m a captain, I’m a captain, I’m a captain.
What exactly does “La Bamba” mean? Consider: “Bambolear” means swinging or swaying, and a “bambollero/bambollera” is a someone who likes to boast (e.g., “I’m not a sailor, I’m a captain!”).
The song is a play on words. Spanish words.
Perhaps that’s why it’s better left in Spanish.
SDStaff Songbird, Straight Dope Science Advisory Board
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