La Bamba (song)

"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)[1]—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.

Traditional versions

"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.[2] 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.

Early recordings

Although an obscure and possibly non-existent 1908 Mexican recording has been cited,[3] 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.[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.[5] A popular version by Andrés Huesca (19171957) and his brother Victor, billed as Hermanos Huesca, was issued on Peerless Records in Mexico in about 194546. Huesca re-recorded the song for RCA Victor in 1947,[3] 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.[6]

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.[7][8] Another version, "somewhat bowdlerized", was recorded by Cynthia Gooding on her 1953 Elektra album, Mexican Folk Songs.[9] The song was also recorded for the French market in 1956 by Juanita Linda and her backing group Los Mont-Real.[10]

Ritchie Valens' version

"La Bamba"
Single by Ritchie Valens
from the album Ritchie Valens
ReleasedOctober 18, 1958
Songwriter(s)adapted by Ritchie Valens
Producer(s)Bob Keane
Ritchie Valens singles chronology
"Come On, Let's Go"
"Donna" / "La Bamba"
"Fast Freight / Big Baby Blues"

The traditional song inspired Ritchie Valens' rock and roll version "La Bamba" in 1958.[11] 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.[12]

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.[13]

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".[14]


Chart (195987) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[15] 13
France (SNEP)[16] 32
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[17] 49
US Billboard Hot 100[18] 22

Los Lobos version

"La Bamba"
Single by Los Lobos
from the album La Bamba Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
ReleasedJune 20, 1987
LabelWarner Bros.
Songwriter(s)Ritchie Valens
Producer(s)Los Lobos
Los Lobos singles chronology
"Come On, Let's Go" / "Ooh! My Head"
"La Bamba"
"Down on the Riverbed"

Music video

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. It 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.


Chart (1987) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[19] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[20] 2
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[21] 1
France (SNEP)[22] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[23] 7
Ireland (IRMA) 1
Italy (FIMI) 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[24] 2
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[25] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[26] 4
Spain (AFYVE)[27] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[28] 3
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[29] 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
Chart (2016) Peak
Poland (Polish Airplay Top 100)[30] 75

Certifications and sales

Region CertificationCertified units/sales
Canada (Music Canada)[31] Platinum 100,000^
France (SNEP)[32] Gold 934,000[32]
United States (RIAA)[33] 2x Platinum 2,000,000^

^shipments figures based on certification alone

Other notable versions

In 1960, Harry Belafonte's live version of the song was released on his album Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall. His previously recorded but unreleased studio version from 1958 was included in a 2001 compilation, Very Best of Harry Belafonte, under the title "Bam Bam Bamba."[34]

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. Also in 1963, Glen Campbell recorded the song on his album The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell.

"La Bamba" was the B side of the September 1968 release of Neil Diamond's "Shilo".[35]

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[36] 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.[37][38] "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.

Wyclef Jean and Dora the Explorer in the 2010 Mega Music feast on Nickelodeon.

See also


  1. Christgau, Robert (1981). "A Basic Record Library: The Fifties and Sixties". Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies. Ticknor & Fields. ISBN 0899190251. Retrieved March 16, 2019 via
  2. "National Geographic - Inspiring People to Care About the Planet Since 1888". Archived from the original on May 30, 2013. Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  3. Steve Sullivan, Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 2, Scarecrow Press, 2013, pp.460-461
  4. Arnold Rypens, The Originals Archived September 24, 2015, at the Wayback Machine. Accessed April 13, 2015
  5. "Life Dances La Bamba in Mexico City", Life, 15 October 1945, pp.140-141
  6. "Fiesta", MovieMagg, February 2, 2013. Retrieved April 13, 2015
  7. Mats Johansson, Magnus Nilsson, "William Clauson", Accessed April 13, 2015
  8. Biography, William Clauson official site. Accessed April 13, 2015
  9. Richie Unterberger, Liner notes for reissue of Cynthia Gooding's Mexican Folk Songs. Accessed April 13, 2015
  10. Juanita Linda Et Los Mont-Réal, Accessed April 13, 2015
  11. Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 14 - Big Rock Candy Mountain: Rock 'n' roll in the late fifties. [Part 4]" (audio). Pop Chronicles. University of North Texas Libraries.
  12. Ritchie Valens, "Ritchie Valens in Come On. Let’s Go" Del-Fi Records, liner notes
  13. "Latin GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". Latin Grammy Award. Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  14. Andrews, Travis M. (March 20, 2019). "Jay-Z, a speech by Sen. Robert F. Kennedy and 'Schoolhouse Rock!' among recordings deemed classics by Library of Congress". The Washington Post. Retrieved March 25, 2019.
  15. " – Ritchie Valens – La Bamba" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  16. " – Ritchie Valens – La Bamba" (in French). Les classement single.
  17. "Ritchie Valens: Artist Chart History". Official Charts Company.
  18. "Ritchie Valens Chart History (Hot 100)". Billboard.
  19. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  20. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  21. "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved March 30, 2014.
  22. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in French). Les classement single.
  23. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". GfK Entertainment Charts.
  24. "Nederlandse Top 40 – Los Lobos" (in Dutch). Dutch Top 40.
  25. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Top 40 Singles.
  26. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". VG-lista.
  27. Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  28. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Singles Top 100.
  29. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Swiss Singles Chart.
  30. "Listy bestsellerów, wyróżnienia :: Związek Producentów Audio-Video". Polish Airplay Top 100. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  31. "Canadian single certifications – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Music Canada.
  32. "Les Certifications (Albums) du SNEP (Bilan par Artiste) > "Los Lobos" > "Ok". Archived from the original on October 30, 2014. Retrieved July 14, 2015.
  33. "Gold & Platinum". Recording Industry Association of America.
  34. "CD Reissues 1". Retrieved July 20, 2019.
  35. {{Cite web]url=}}
  36. Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974-2003. Record Research. p. 220.
  37. Herman, Valli. "Texas, with an East L.A. Edge / Los Lonely Boys for "Heaven" from "Los Lonely Boys"". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
  38. Sauro, Tony. "Los Lonely Boys are family boys". Local Media Group, Inc. Retrieved June 21, 2016.
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