La Bamba (song)

"La Bamba"
Single by Ritchie Valens
from the album Ritchie Valens
A-side "Donna"
Released October 18, 1958
Format 7"
Recorded 1958
Length 2:06
Label Del-Fi
Writer(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"

"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 ranked number 354 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. 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.

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.[1] 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".

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 a captain"; Veracruz is a maritime locale.

Early recordings

Although an obscure and possibly non-existent 1908 Mexican recording has been cited,[2] 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.[3]

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.[4] 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,[2] 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.[5]

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.[6][7] Another version, "somewhat bowdlerized", was recorded by Cynthia Gooding on her 1953 Elektra album, Mexican Folk Songs.[8] The song was also recorded for the French market in 1956 by Juanita Linda and her backing group Los Mont-Real.[9] The same year, Harry Belafonte reportedly recorded the song, but a version by Belafonte was not commercially released until a live recording made at Carnegie Hall in 1960.

Ritchie Valens' version

The traditional song inspired Ritchie Valens' rock and roll version "La Bamba" in 1958.[10] 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 into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001). The musicians on that session were Buddy Clark: string bass, Ernie Freeman: piano, Carol Kaye: rhythm guitar, Rene Hall: Danelectro guitar (six-string baritone guitar), Earl Palmer: drums, Ritchie Valens: vocals, lead guitar.[11]

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. 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.[12]

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.


Chart (195987) Peak
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[13] 13
France (SNEP)[14] 32
UK Singles (Official Charts Company)[15] 49
US Billboard Hot 100[16] 22

Trini Lopez' version

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.

Los Lobos version

"La Bamba"
Single by Los Lobos
from the album La Bamba Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
B-side "Charlena"
Released June 20, 1987
Recorded 1986
Length 2:54
Label Warner Bros.
Writer(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"

The rock group Los Lobos' 1987 cover of Ritchie Valens "La Bamba" reached number one on Billboards Hot 100 Chart.

Music video

The music video for Los Lobos' version of the song was directed by Sherman Halsey, and was the winner of the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film.

Chart performance

Chart (1987) Peak
Australia (Kent Music Report) 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[17] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[18] 2
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[19] 1
France (SNEP)[20] 1
Germany (Official German Charts)[21] 7
Ireland (IRMA) 1
Italy (FIMI) 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[22] 2
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[23] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[24] 4
Spain (AFYVE)[25] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[26] 3
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[27] 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)[28] 75

Certifications and sales

Region Certification Certified units/Sales
Canada (Music Canada)[29] Platinum 100,000^
France (SNEP)[30] Gold 934,000[30]

^shipments figures based on certification alone

Other notable versions

The song has been covered by many artists. In 1963, Glen Campbell recorded the song on his album The Astounding 12-String Guitar of Glen Campbell. In 1979, singer Antonia Rodriguez recorded a disco version which hit number thirty-four on the American disco chart.[31] 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.[32][33] The Kidsongs Kids perform their version on their Boppin' With the Biggles video and it took more than 100 shots to edit their version of the music video.

See also


  1. "National Geographic - Inspiring People to Care About the Planet Since 1888". Retrieved 2014-03-30.
  2. 1 2 Steve Sullivan, Encyclopedia of Great Popular Song Recordings, Volume 2, Scarecrow Press, 2013, pp.460-461
  3. Arnold Rypens, The Originals. Accessed 13 April 2015
  4. "Life Dances La Bamba in Mexico City", Life, 15 October 1945, pp.140-141
  5. "Fiesta", MovieMagg, February 2, 2013. Retrieved 13 April 2015
  6. Mats Johansson, Magnus Nilsson, "William Clauson", Accessed 13 April 2015
  7. Biography, William Clauson official site. Accessed 13 April 2015
  8. Richie Unterberger, Liner notes for reissue of Cynthia Gooding's Mexican Folk Songs. Accessed 13 April 2015
  9. Juanita Linda Et Los Mont-Réal, Accessed 13 April 2015
  10. Gilliland, John (1969). "Show 14 - Big Rock Candy Mountain: Rock 'n' roll in the late fifties. [Part 4]" (audio). Pop Chronicles.
  11. Ritchie Valens , “Ritchie Valens in Come On. Let’s Go” Del-Fi Records, liner notes
  12. "Latin GRAMMY Hall Of Fame". Latin Grammy Award. Latin Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. 2013. Retrieved August 19, 2014.
  13. " – Ritchie Valens – La Bamba" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  14. " – Ritchie Valens – La Bamba" (in French). Les classement single.
  15. "Ritchie Valens: Artist Chart History" Official Charts Company.
  16. "Ritchie Valens – Chart history" Billboard Hot 100 for Ritchie Valens.
  17. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in German). Ö3 Austria Top 40.
  18. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in Dutch). Ultratop 50.
  19. "Item Display - RPM - Library and Archives Canada". Retrieved 2014-03-30.
  20. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba" (in French). Les classement single.
  21. " – Los Lobos Single-Chartverfolgung" (in German). Media Control Charts. PhonoNet GmbH.
  22. "Nederlandse Top 40 – Los Lobos search results" (in Dutch) Dutch Top 40.
  23. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Top 40 Singles.
  24. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". VG-lista.
  25. Salaverri, Fernando (September 2005). Sólo éxitos: año a año, 1959–2002 (1st ed.). Spain: Fundación Autor-SGAE. ISBN 84-8048-639-2.
  26. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Singles Top 100.
  27. " – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Swiss Singles Chart.
  28. "Listy bestsellerów, wyróżnienia :: Związek Producentów Audio-Video". Polish Airplay Top 100. Retrieved May 23, 2016.
  29. "Canadian single certifications – Los Lobos – La Bamba". Music Canada.
  30. 1 2 "Les Certifications (Albums) du SNEP (Bilan par Artiste) > "Los Lobos" > "Ok". Retrieved 2015-07-14.
  31. Whitburn, Joel (2004). Hot Dance/Disco: 1974-2003. Record Research. p. 220.
  32. Herman, Valli. "Texas, with an East L.A. Edge / Los Lonely Boys for "Heaven" from "Los Lonely Boys"". The Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
  33. Sauro, Tony. "Los Lonely Boys are family boys". Local Media Group, Inc. Retrieved 21 June 2016.
Preceded by
"Who's That Girl" by Madonna
UK number one single (Los Lobos version)
July 28, 1987
Succeeded by
"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" by Michael Jackson & Siedah Garrett
Preceded by
"Who's That Girl" by Madonna
Billboard Hot 100 number one single (Los Lobos version)
August 29, 1987 - September 12, 1987
Succeeded by
"I Just Can't Stop Loving You" by Michael Jackson and Siedah Garrett
Preceded by
"Ahora Te Puedes Marchar" by Luis Miguel
Billboard Hot Latin Tracks number one single (Los Lobos version)
September 19, 1987 - October 31, 1987
Succeeded by
"Ahora Te Puedes Marchar" by Luis Miguel
Preceded by
"Joe le taxi" by Vanessa Paradis
French (SNEP) number one single (Los Lobos version)
October 17, 1987 - December 26, 1987
Succeeded by
"Étienne" by Guesch Patti
Preceded by
"Laisse parler les gens" by Jocelyne Labylle and Cheela featuring Jacob Desvarieux and Passi
Belgian (Wallonia) number-one single (Star Academy 4 version)
October 18, 2003 - November 8, 2003 (4 weeks)
Succeeded by
"Hey oh" by Tragédie
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