La Bamba Translation

Translation of La Bamba

Nothing gets people riled up like talking about the “right” translation of La Bamba.

You know how the song goes in Spanish.

Now it’s time to see the La Bamba translation into English.

But first, some thoughts on translating music.

I find that translating songs is surprisingly one of the hardest types of texts to translate. This might not seem apparent at first because many Spanish song lyrics don’t really match up word for word with their English counterparts. Some might think that because this is the case, a translator has more freedom to come up with an adequate translation without being forced to stick to the original words and meaning so much.

While it is definitely the case that you have more freedom to come up with corresponding lyrics in Spanish (or in English if the original song is in another language like Spanish), you are also have more constraints placed on you than you would have if you were just translating a boring text document.

Think song translation.

For example, songs usually have music that the text has to match up with. A translator has to make sure that the text he or she has used will match up with the music. If not, the translation is no good, no matter how well the translated lyrics are. If you can’t sing along with the translation, it’s not going to work.

Take Christmas songs in Spanish, for example. When you match up the Spanish translated lyrics with their English counterparts, you can tell that effort was made to not only make sure the musicality of the song remains in tact, but also, that the overall meaning of the song is similar. Sometimes, translators have to stray a bit from the meaning in order get the music flowing right, but the trade-off is worth it to make it sound right when sung.

OK, Back to La Bamba

Ritchie Valens made famous this traditional Mexican song in the 1950’s and it will forever be remembered as one of the first Spanish songs to become popular among the English-speaking audience of the United States.

Spanish crossover artists are obviously more frequent and well-known nowadays, especially with the likes of artists such as Shakira, the late Selena, and the well-known Santana. However, the popularity of Spanish music in the 1950s among the English-speaking crowds in the United States wasn’t as high as it is now. Ritchie Valens really had to bust through a barrier but he really did with the introduction of La Bamba. And then he was gone at only 17 years old. Sad.

How to Translate La Bamba

The song isn’t a very complicated song linguistically to translate. No long sentences or grammatically difficult pieces; however, one thing that makes the song challenging to a certain degree is context, or lack of context.

Songs are usually written about something: some event, a person,  a place… something. However, it can be difficult sometimes to figure out exactly what the song is about. And one of the things that helps translators the most figure out the best way to translate something (especially something like a song) is to know the background or backstory behind the piece.

So, figuring out what La Bamba is all about will help us know how to best translate it.

So now, the Spanish lyrics.

Para bailar la bamba
Para bailar la bamba
Se necesita una poca de gracia
Una poca de gracia para mi para ti
Arriba y arriba, Arriba y arriba
Por ti seré, Por ti seré
Yo no soy marinero, Yo no soy marinero
Soy capitán, Soy capitán, Soy capitán

There are lots of different ways to translate this song, and for the most part there is no 100% right way to translate it. For example, below is one translation into English:

In order to dance the Bamba
In order to dance the Bamba
A little humor is needed
A little humor for me and for you
Faster and faster, Faster and faster
I’ll be for you, I’ll be for you
I’m not a sailor, I’m not a sailor
I’m captain, I’m captain, I’m captain

What do you think? How close to (or far away from) the original is this La Bamba translation? Like I said, translations can vary and while there is usually not one right answer, there can definitely be incorrect ways to translate something.

And arguments can get pretty heated between people fighting over which La Bamba translation is the right one. The following was an exchange that I received a while back from people over the translation of the word gracia in the song.

First, someone wrote the following:

  • I don’t think this La Bamba translation is right because I don’t think that it’s correct to translate gracia as humor. Instead, I think it should be translated as grace.

Which was followed up by someone else who then said:

  • Doesn’t the word gracia also mean skill or ability? It seems this would fit better with the context of the song.

Followed by another commentator:

  • Gracia means funny in spanish. So if you translate the concept the original post is right. Although grace does make sense.

So you’ve got three different people who would translate the word grace into three different terms: humorskill, and funny.

Still others have additional ideas about how the word should be translated.

That’s one of the things that can be both exciting and frustrating about translation in general, and especially about music translation specifically. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to say that one translation is absolutely correct over another, especially without the chance to talk to the original song writer.

In the meantime, though, here are some other La Bamba translations in different languages. The first translation is from Spanish to German, and was submitted by Caleb White:

Um das Bamba zu tanzen,
Um das Bamba zu tanzen,
Man braucht ein bißchen Gnade,
Ein bißchen Gnade für mich und für dich,
Schneller und schneller, Schneller und schneller,
Werde ich für dich, Werde ich für dich,
Ich bin kein Matrose, Ich bin kein Matrose,
Ich bin Kapitan, Ich bin Kapitan, Ich bin Kapitan.

The next translation is La Bamba in Flemish, and was submitted by an anonymous person:

Als je de la Bamba wil dansen
Als je de La Bamba wil dansen
Is een beetje humor nodig
Een beetje humor van jou en mij
Sneller en sneller, Sneller en sneller
Ben ik er voor jou, ben ik er voor jou 
Ik ben geen zeeman, ik ben geen zeeman 
Ik ben kapitein, Ik ben kapitein, Ik ben Kapitein

Now I’m not sure if anyone has actually sung these lyrics to the La Bamba music, but at least they’re here in case anyone gets any ideas.

P.S. I also write about other issues related to translation, like how to become a successful translator.

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