Authored by Ann Myers in Music
Published on 10-22-2009
Famous Spanish folk songs have origins and content as varied as Spanish speaking cultures. By definition a folk song is passed down orally with the author often unknown. Over time verses are added to much loved Spanish folk songs.
“El Conde Arnaldos” is a Spanish folk song from 16th century Spain. This Spanish ballad tells the story of Count Arnaldos going on a journey to learn a sailor’s song.
The Spanish word for folk song is corrido. “La Cucuracha”, a corrido from Spain, has pre-revolution and Spanish revolutionary lyrics. This song about a cockroach also has lyrics from the Mexican revolution. Other satirical lyrics mock gringos who do not speak Spanish.
“La Adelita” is a folk song also set in the Mexican revolution. In this love song Adelita follows her sergeant to battle.
A very famous Spanish folk song is “La Bamba” from Veracruz in Mexico. Traditionally this song is played at weddings. It is known to Americans because of Richie Valens’ rock and roll version.
Mexican mariachi bands play folk songs. “La Valentina” is a mariachi drinking song. Another mariachi Spanish folk song is “Alla en el Rancho Grande”. There is a 1936 film with the song name. In 1941 Silvano Ramos, who rewrote the folk song for the movie, sued John and Alan Lomax for publishing the song in their book American Ballads and Folk Songs. The question in the suit was whether the movie’s version of the Spanish folk song was an original work or public domain.
Folk songs are often material for Spanish songwriters to build upon. “Cielito Lindo” was an older Spanish song rewritten in 1882 by Quirion Mendoza y Cortes. This song has a first line referring to the Sierra Morena in Spain. This line in the Mexican song is interpreted as a girl’s hair piled up on her head.
In the original lyrics of the Spanish folk song “Guantanamera”, the man in the song sings about being snubbed by a girl from Guantanamo. The Cuban poet Jose Marti wrote his own political words for this song. “Guantanamera” is now a very popular patriotic folk song for Cubans. In the 1960’s Pete Seeger popularized this Cuban folk song with Marti lyrics.
Another popular Cuban song is “La Paloma”or “The Dove”. “La Paloma” is a love song written by the Spanish composer Sebastian Iradier after he visited Cuba in 1861. This song was popularized by the 1939 movie Juarez.
“La Llorona” is another traditional Spanish folk song with varying regional Spanish lyrics. This folk song is about a woman whose lover leaves her. Devastated, Llorona drowns her children. In the song she weeps for what she has lost.
Out of Colombia comes the percussion driven genre cumbia. The singer-songwriter Toto la Momposina draws upon Spanish folk songs such as “El Pescador” (The Fisherman) for inspiration. In the Spanish lyrics of this song the fisherman talks with the moon.
Whether a song is centuries or decades old, what makes it a folk song is its enduring earthy content that appeals to all generations. These Spanish songs (and many more) are folk music because Spanish singers continue to learn and add to them.