Ritchie Valens - La Bamba

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"La Bamba"
Single by Ritchie Valens
from the album Ritchie Valens
A-side "Donna"
Released October 18, 1958
Format 7"
Recorded 1958
  • Rock and roll
  • tejano
  • chicano rock
  • rock en Espanõl
Length 2:06
Label Del-Fi (US)   London (UK)
Writer adapted by Ritchie Valens
Producer Bob Keane
Ritchie Valens singles chronology
"Come On, Let's Go"
"Donna" / "La Bamba"
"Fast Freight / Big Baby Blues"


  "La Bamba" 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 #1 in the U.S. and UK singles charts in the same year. The Los Lobos version remained #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 jarachas (harps) along with guitar relatives the jarana jarocha and the requinto jarocha. 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, 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".

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 by Arthur Murray. A popular version by Andrés Huesca (1917–1957) and his brother Victor, billed as Hermanos Huesca, was issued on Peerless Records in Mexico in about 1945–46. Huesca re-recorded the song for RCA Victor in 1947, 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.


Valens' version

The traditional song inspired Ritchie Valens' rock and roll version "La Bamba" in 1958. 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 accessible to 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.

The song features a simple verse-choras 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 #98 in VH1's 100 Greatest Songs of Rock and Roll and #59 in VH1's 100 Greatest Dance Songs of Rock and Roll, both done in 2000. Valens's recording of the song was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame.



Ritchie Valens - Donna / La Bamba

U.K. London HL 8803 (1958)

Thr vinyl record has remained in excellent condition.

Audio quality is clear and strong throughout.

Both record centre labels are clean and unmarked.

The record comes with an original company paper sleeve.

The record has no picture sleeve, (US only).

Browse this category: Rock & Roll/1950s 7" Singles