I read an article today that spoke about “La Bamba” and its history in America. This came up due to its involvement one year ago in a counter-protest in Shelbyville, Tennessee. At this counter-protest, people showed up against the white supremacist demonstrators and played music and did chants in order to drown out their speeches. In one particular moment, a white supremacist was shut down by the blaring of “La Bamba,” a bop of a song that’s very easy and natural to dance to. This turned the protest into more of a concert, with the counter-protestors all jamming along to the music. The song has evolved with time and with new artist covers, who each add their own spin to it.
The song itself first appeared in the 1950s in a version by seventeen-year-old Ritchie Valens, adapted from an old Mexican folk song. The name La Bamba may have roots in “umbamba,” a beat from Africa that fused with the Spanish traditions of the surrounding people. The instruments of son jarocho were played in an Afro-Caribbean style and rhythm for traditional versions of “La Bamba.” As the song was popularized in the US, hip hop elements and culture found their way into new versions and covers. Like hip hop’s freestyle nature, the son jarocho style is always changing its lyrics, and so can change with the climate of the time a new version is written. The song is now so ingrained in the US culture that it’s thematic to play such a song against a white supremacist speaker.
A song that has the enduring traditions of Africana people has found its way into Mexican culture, and then into American culture, and then was used to protest white supremacy in America. The song has survived slavery and colonialism. That a song whose tradition is so built upon the merging of cultures and immigration could be used in such a way is amazing. It’s Mexican culture, Africana culture, and has been adopted by American culture, too. It’s a great example of the blended form of the American culture that we have.