Verse-Chorus-Verse: Los Lobos – “La Guacamaya”

Over the years, East LA stalwarts Los Lobos have consistently proven themselves to be visionary recording artists, approaching each album with a distinct sonic palette, a daring attitude, a batch of kickass songs, and lots of pure rock n roll abandon. “La Guacamaya” is from their most controversial record, La Pistola y El Corazón, which is a cover album of sorts: the entire record, save for two originals, features the group’s interpretations of songs from various Mexican music traditions.

“La Guacamaya” is from the Son Jarocho tradition, which originated in Veracruz, Mexico. “La Bamba” is probably the most famous Son Jarocho tune. Though I also love the moody Huapango style, Son Jarocho is probably my favorite style of Mexican music because of both the form (characterized by call-and-response vocals, rhythmic playing, and improvisation) and the instrumentation (I love La Arpa Jarocha, the harp associated with this style). “La Guacamaya” (ostensibly about the multicolored toucan/macaw bird) is rendered here with the precise syncopation and gusto of musicians who thoroughly know and love this music. The lead vocal is by Cesar Rosas, whose way with a Spanish lyric expresses both the intent of the tradition and his own rock/R&B background. Dig the lyric:

Pobrecita guacamaya ay! Qué lástima me das

Ay qué lástima me das, pobrecita guacamaya

Se acabron las pitahayas ahora si qué comerás

Pobrecita guacamaya ay! Qué lástima me das

Vuela, vuela, vuela, como yo volé

Cuando me llevaron preso señorita por usted

Vuela, vuela, vuela, como yo volé

Cuando me llevaron preso señorita por usted

Una guacamaya pinta le dijo a la colorada:

“Vamonos para tierra pa pasar la temporada”

As translated in the booklet:

Poor guacamaya, oh what a pity

Oh what a pity, poor guacamaya

The cactus fruit are all gone now,

What will you eat?

Poor guacamaya… oh what a pity

Fly, fly, fly, oh how I flew

When I was taken prisoner, señorita

All because of you

The many colored guacamaya said to the red one:

“Let us go to my land to pass the season”

Songs with animal and anthropomorphic imagery are pretty common in indigenous and mestizo cultures, and “La Guacamaya” is clearly in that tradition. The delivery of the tune has a giddy playfulness throughout, which makes it a perfect, fun opener for this album.

Although I am a huge fan of Los Lobos’ original work and approach, I particularly admire the guts it took to make this record, especially because they made it as the follow-up album to the frenzied commercial success of the La Bamba soundtrack. The entire La Pistola y El Corazón album is an excellent sampler of Mexican music traditions, executed with great joy and respect (and their two originals are winners as well). It’s a good way for a newbie to get started on both traditional Mexican music and Californian Chicano music. After this album, it’s an easy jump to Los Lobos’ beautiful Kiko record, the surreal Colossal Head, or even back to some of the other great artists who, like Los Lobos, cut their teeth in East LA.