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"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 #1 in the U.S. and UK singles charts in the same year. The music video for Los Lobos' version, directed by Sherman Halsey, won the 1988 MTV Video Music Award for Best Video from a Film.



  • 1 Traditional versions
  • 2 Valens' version
  • 3 Other versions
  • 4 Charts
    • 4.1 Ritchie Valens version
    • 4.2 Los Lobos version
  • 5 Music video
  • 6 See also
  • 7 References

Traditional versions[edit][]

"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 Africanmusical 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".

The traditional "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.

Valens' version[edit][]

The traditional song inspired Ritchie Valens' rock and roll version "La Bamba" in 1958.[2] Valens' "La Bamba" infused the traditional tune with a rock drive, in part provided by session drummer Earl Palmer and session guitarist 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.[3]

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 #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.[4]

When Valens' version, covered by Los Lobos, hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1987, it made all three musicians who died in the famous plane crash on February 3, 1959 credited with writing a #1 single. Buddy Holly had songwriting credit for "That'll Be The Day" which hit the top in 1957. J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson was credited with writing "Running Bear" which Johnny Preston took to #1 in 1960.

Other versions[edit][]

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (July 2013)
  • "La Bamba" was performed as a production number in the 1947 movie Fiesta.
  • "La Bamba" was recorded by Harry Belafonte in 1956 and 1960 at Carnegie Hall (LSO6007).
  • British soul singer Dusty Springfield recorded the song for her 1965 album Ev'rything's Coming Up Dusty.
  • "La Bamba" was also recorded by the East Los Angeles punk group, The Plugz, with slightly altered lyrics.
  • In 1979, singer Antonia Rodriguez recorded a disco version which hit number thirty-four on the American disco chart.[5]
  • "La Bamba" was recorded by children's musician Joanie Bartels on her Dancin' Magic album.
  • "La Bamba" is featured in the 1987 movie La Bamba. The song, performed on-screen in the film by Filipino-American actor Lou Diamond Phillips, was recorded byLos Lobos. The full release version of the song features a coda of more traditional Mexican instrumentation.
  • Greek artist Tzimis Panousis released a Greek version of "La Bamba" called "Psofia Glossa" (Ψόφια Γλώσσα) on his 1987 album Ximia kai Terata (Χημεία και Τέρατα).
  • In 1986, "La Bamba" featured as the background music to a British TV ad for the Vauxhall Nova supermini.
  • A few lines of "La Bamba" were sung by Stockard Channing and Dinah Manoff in the 1978 movie Grease. It was also played on Frosty Palace's Jukebox.
  • Super Dave Osborne sang "La Bamba" on his show in 1987.
  • Half Japanese cover the song on their 1987 album Music To Strip By.
  • The Los Lobos cover is a playable track on the 2008 music video game Guitar Hero World Tour.
  • In 1991, Indian film music composer Bappi Lahiri adapted the track with only minor alterations (new Hindi lyrics were written) for the song "Aashiq Deewana Hoon, Pagal Parwana Hoon" from the soundtrack to the Bollywood movie Afsana Pyaar Ka.
  • Indian singer and composer "Sarbajit Ghosh" (Joe), wrote a Benglish Version of this song and named it BABY I LOVE YOU, and included it in the second studio album of his band INSOMNIAC-Z, with himself as the Lead Vocalist. The song was a runaway hit.
  • In 1992, an instrumental version was used on TVS Television's final program Goodbye To All That.
  • "La Bamba was featured as a musical number in the West End and Broadway productions of Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story performed by Miguel Angel and Philip Anthony-Rodriguez respectively
  • "La Bamba" was recorded by the popular folk group, The Kingston Trio.
  • "Weird Al" Yankovic parodied "La Bamba" as "Lasagna".
  • Japanese hip hop group Dragon Ash released a version of "La Bamba" on their 2009 album Freedom.
  • The song has also been covered in recordings by Alvin and the Chipmunks, Bobby Darin, Trini Lopez, Nashville Teens (1964), Trio Los Machucambos (1962), Los Paraguayos, Los Diablos del Paraguay (1976),Nana Mouskouri, The Sandpipers, Selena, Safri Duo, Leon Thomas III (for the soundtrack for August Rush), Dusty Springfield, Bud & Travis, The Ventures, Clay Walker, Wyclef Jean, Johnny Rivers, Jose Feliciano, Khalil Fong, Neil Diamond, Veggie Tales and Deer Tick.
  • The song is featured in the 2009 direct-to-DVD film American High School, sung by Trini Lopez.
  • The song is played whenever the Mexican Liga de Ascenso's team Tiburones Rojos de Veracruz scores a goal at the Luis "Pirata" Fuente.
  • The song is performed live by Bruce Springsteen and the E-street band and by Romanian singer Inna.
  • The video game Wii Music features this song as a playable option.
  • The Lalaloopsy RC Scooters commercial jingle is set to the tune of this song.


Ritchie Valens version[edit][]

Chart (1958-1959) Peak


UK Singles (The Official Charts Company)[6] 49
US Billboard Hot 100[7] 22

Los Lobos version[edit][]

Chart (1987-1989) Peak


Australia (Kent Music Report) 1
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[8] 3
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[9] 2
Canada Top Singles (RPM)[10] 1
France (SNEP)[11] 1
Germany (Media Control Charts)[12] 7
Ireland (IRMA) 1
Italy (FIMI) 1
Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)[13] 2
New Zealand (Recorded Music NZ)[14] 1
Norway (VG-lista)[15] 4
Spain (AFYVE)[16] 1
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[17] 3
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[18] 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

Music video[edit][]

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.