El Son Xarocho / El Colás

I grew up in SoCal listening to Richie Valens sing La Bamba. Well, okay, not literally: Richie died in the plane crash along with the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly. But we kept listening to his songs, not just the teeny bopper romances but the catchy rhythmic ones, the ones we could dance to –

Para bailar la Bamba

Se necesita un poco de gracia…

To dance La Bamba you need a little grace…a little style.

Then, years later, I discover La Bamba isn’t just a song Richie made up.

It’s a traditional folksong from the state of Veracruz, in southeastern Mexico.

And it isn’t just a song, not merely una canción…

It’s a son.

A Spanish word which, used in context, doesn’t merely mean a ‘sound’ – but a kind of music.  A way of playing music.  The people of Veracruz call themselves Jarochos – or Xarochos to use the older Spanish form of spelling the “j” sound with a “x”.

Sones are a musical form found in Mexico, in Cuba, in Puerto Rico, all across latinoamerica. The classic traditional Mexican son is in 4/6 time except for exceptions – like La Bamba – which are in 4/4 time.  And the Son Jarocho – or Son Xarocho, que viene del sur de Veracruz – which comes from the south of Vera Cruz – is one of the few sones to feature both 4/6 and 4/4 time. Oh, yeah, and the other thing about un son is – it has an unlimited number of verses (usually couplets) – each of which is a complete thought unto itself – and (saving the best for the last, always) the son es música para bailar – the son is always played for dancing.  You don’t just listen to a son….you dance to it.  You have to.

As for the coplas (verses), La Bamba supposedly has hundreds – not just the ones Richie Valens sang, but new ones that are being created every day. Part of the son tradition is improvising and inventing new verses.  Who does this? The singers of course, los cantadores, and the músicos, the musicians – with new lines and verses adlibbed on the spot, every time a song – un son – gets sung.  Of course this isn’t merely a Mexican tradition – inventing new verses is done everywhere, in Appalachia, in the Scottish Highlands, on the beaches of Madagascar – but los soneros Xarochos do it with wit and style.  Making up crude and bawdy jokes and insults is part of the tradition too – a dangerous part sometimes depending on how much tequila or mezcal has been drunk, who has a machete or a gun, and whose wife – or husband – you happen to be singing about.  But of course that’s half the fun…

And let’s not forget the instruments.  The arpas (harps), panderos (tambourines) and violins get complemented by dozens of percussion instruments, including the tarima, a wooden platform on which dancers pound rhythms with their feet, a tradition which goes back to the African slaves that were sold and traded in the ports of Vera Cruz. And then there are the tradiciones indídgenas. The Totonas and the Huastecs have been fighting to preserve their culture and ways of life from the Spaniards, and before that, from the hated Aztecs, for hundreds of years. And the Son Jarocho is part of that tradition.

Which finally brings us to the music, which is what this is all about.  The group – Son la Fábula -surprisingly are not native Xarochos – but are urban folkmusicians from el D.F. – el Distrito Federal – what people who live there call Mexico City.  They’re not just good musicians….they’re fucking great.  They seriously rock.  And this song – El Colás -is among their best.  A traditional favorite – a classic of the son xarocho – it’s loosely about a guy called Nicolas.…. or ‘Colás’ for short.   

So….put on your dancing shoes.

Tell your best lies.

And be very careful that that jealous husband or wife….hasn’t come back to town, unexpectedly.

First the MUSIC…

And then the WORDS – the lyrics – followed by my ad-libbed translation.

EL COLÁS

Ahhhh.….¿Qué quieres que te traiga

mujer, de Puerto Rico?

Una paloma blanca

¿También un abanico?

¿Qué quieres que te traiga

de Veracruz?

Una paloma blanca

¿O una paloma azul?

ESTRIBILLO/CHORUS

Colás, Colás

Colás y Nicolás

Lo mucho que te quiero

Y el mal pago que me das.

Si quieres, si puedes

Si no ya lo verás

Con esos ojos negros

me miras y te vas.

Amada Marcelina

¿Mujer adonde vas?

Me voy para el fandango

Al cantar a Nicolas

Amada Marcelina

Mujer adonde vas?

Me voy para el fandango

Al cantar a Nicolas

ESTRIBLLIO/CHORUS

Qué buen caballo tiene

mi amigo Nicolás.

Camina pa’ adelante

Camina pa’ atras.

Qué buen caballo tiene

mi amigo don Simon.

Camina pa’ adelante

Camina pa’ el rincón.

ESTRIBILLO/CHORUS

Si cierro los ojos

Miro la oscuridad.

Pero cuando los abro

De ti me acuerdo más.

Si cierro los ojos

Miro la oscuridad.

Pero cuando los abro

Te quiero más y más.

ESTRIBILLO/CHORUS

Con eso me despido

porque ya no puedo más

Aquí se va cantando

Los versos del Colás.

Con eso me despido

porque ya no puedo más

Aquí se va cantando

Los versos del Colás.

TRANSLATION:

Girl, what do you want me to bring you

from Puerto Rico?

A white dove

and also a fan?

What do you want me to bring you

from Veracruz?

A white dove

or one that is blue? (Veracruz & blue rhyme in Spanish)

CHORUS

Colás, Colás

Colás and Nicolás

I love you so much

And you treat me so poorly.

If you want, if you can

If you won’t see me

With those dark eyes of yours

You look at me, then you leave me.

My darling Marcelina

Girl where are you going?

I’m going to the party

To sing to Nicolas.

My darling Marcelina

Girl where are you going?

I’m going to the party

To sing to Nicolas.

CHORUS

What a great horse

my friend Nicolas has.

It walks forwards –

And it walks backwards.

What a great horse

my friend Simon has.

It walks forwards –

It walks into the corner. (Simon & corner rhyme in Spanish)

CHORUS

If I close my eyes

I just see darkness.

But when I open them

I remember you even more.

If I close my eyes

I just see darkness.

But when I open them

I love you more and more.

CHORUS

Now it’s time for me to go

I can’t take it anymore.

We’ll just keep singing

More verses of El Colás.

Now it’s time for me to go

I can’t take it anymore.

We’ll just keep singing

More verses of El Colás.

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4 comments on “El Son Xarocho / El Colás

  1. htm says:

    Oaxaca is not Veracruz.
    Oaxaca is a state of Mexico, while Veracruz is another state; they both share a border and music and some other cultural values. The cover image you show is form the record “El son Jarocho” by Los Utrera, a family based traditional son group who is devoted to preserving and transmitting the cultural and musical values from traditional son jarocho from a particular region of Veracruz.

  2. Thank you htm. I’ve corrected the post. I think when I wrote it part of my brain wasn’t functioning, something I fear may be happening more often lately although given the unpredictability of how synapses actually fire and transmit thoughts or ideas, who can say. And thanks for your thoughtful comments. Though I’ve listened to and appreciated el Son Jarocho for most of my life, much of my limited first-hand familiarity with it comes through musical interactions with my friend Juan Nicanor Pascoe, un hombre renacimiento, a true Renaissance man who in addition to being a remarkable bookmaker, is a killer musician. Juan was one of the original founders of el Grupo Mono Blanco, a ridiculously great and long-lived musical entity dedicated to el Son Jarocho which has flourished in Mexico over decades. But the initial ignorance of saying that Oaxaca is in VeraCruz is something I can’t attribute to Juan or to any of my other friends, associates, or even enemies: it’s purely my own. ¡Muchísimas gracías por la corrección!

  3. j. michael combs (miguel peines -- el despeinado) says:

    gracias pa’ compartir estos lindos versos. ya tengo años cantando solo frases de esta cancion. ahora lo puedo cantar mas completo. la musica da vida. como dice una copla de otro paiz (argentina): “… zamba, ya no me dejes, yo sin tu canto no vivo mas…” miguel
    cantacalles-matamoscas

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