How is Lorca like Jacob Forever? Popular music in language and vice versa
I hear reggaeton. And timba and cast and traptón. I hear them, even if I don't hear them. I can't help it. They are there, inescapable parts of the soundscape.
Algunos nombres se me han pegado: Chocolate MC, Jacob Forever, El Micha, Yomil y El Dany, quien tristemente falleció hace poco. Otros, jamás los había oído mentar hasta que empecé a investigar para escribir este artículo. Mucho gusto, Álvaro la Figura, El Úniko y Wildey.
Sin embargo, aunque no conociera los nombres, sí estaba familiarizado con sus obras o, al menos, con partes de ellas. Sin conocer a Los Principales, había escuchado y dicho la frase “kimba pa’ que suene”; sin saber quién era Wildey, me había llegado algún que otro “normalmente, niña”.
And it is that popular music and speech have a curious way of interpenetrating, not of "getting contaminated". Many expressions that we hear and say every day have their origin or owe their extended use to popular songs. But how they are born, what they talk about, what they are used for, how they are built, what value they have, what they teach us about the social groups to which they are linked.
The chicken or the egg?
The first thing you want to know is, perhaps, where these expressions come from. Are they on the street and do artists take them for their songs? Or are they your creations that, after success, pass into popular language? From what I have been able to see, there is a bit of everything.
Antes del Cerro cerra’o de Insurrecto, algunos ya preguntaban “¿Qué tú estás formando?”. Pero en el momento en que Insurrecto cantó “¿Qué estás formando tú?”, la frase se diseminó —así, con el sujeto tú al final— y se hizo reconocible. No es muy distinto de lo que sucedió con “si me pides el pesca’o, te lo doy”, que data de la época del vodevil cubano, pero que, con La bella del Alhambra, regresó al habla popular cubana y nunca se ha ido.
Even expressions as generalized as "there is always an eye that sees you" can surprise us. In a Google search - okay, this is not the most serious method of linguistic research, but it was what I had at hand - I couldn't find a single attestation of the phrase that was not associated with Dan Den. Some results made reference to the “old Cuban saying” or the “well-known popular saying”, but nothing more. Nothing before 1993, the year the song became popular. Expressions such as "bacalao con pan" (Irakere), "bajanda" (Chocolate MC) and "hasta Santiago a pie" (Hermanos Bravo), seem to have been created for specific topics that later "hit", they were successful, converting these phrases partly of the linguistic heritage of the public. It may also happen that the phrase is used in a small context - say, in the neighborhood where the artist lives - and that, through a song, it is spread over a broader territory, which may be a city, a province or the whole country. In the absence of interviewing the artists, I can only speculate, but I imagine that this has happened with the occasional famous phrase.
When an expression enters the language from popular music, something interesting can happen: it can change its meaning. When Issac Delgado sang “if your gaze killed”, he was referring to the powerful and seductive gaze of his muse; on the street, it can be any distinctive look, particularly those of intense reproach. When Los Van Van warned that "Havana can't take it anymore," they were worried about the massive migration from the provinces to the capital; today, the expression can refer to any tense situation. In the voice of Alexander Abreu (Havana D’Primera), “walks above the mambo” is, as I interpret it, a call to enjoy his music and, especially, his brass section; however, I have heard it with meanings ranging from "enjoy that, you deserve it" to "you did what you wanted, so now take the consequences" (this is the meaning I give it when I use it) .
Cuando una expresión entra en la lengua proveniente de la música popular, puede ocurrir algo interesante: puede cambiar de significado. Cuando Issac Delgado cantaba “si tu mirada matara”, se refería a la mirada poderosa y seductora de su musa; en la calle, puede ser cualquier mirada distintiva, particularmente las de intenso reproche. Cuando Los Van Van advertían de que “La Habana no aguanta más”, les preocupaba la migración masiva de las provincias hacia la capital; hoy, la expresión puede referirse a cualquier situación tensa. En la voz de Alexander Abreu (Havana D’Primera), “camina por arriba del mambo” es, según lo interpreto, una llamada a disfrutar de su música y, especialmente, de su sección de metales; sin embargo, la he escuchado con significados que van desde “disfruta eso, que te lo mereces” hasta “hiciste lo que te dio la gana, así que ahora asume las consecuencias” (este es el sentido que le doy yo cuando la uso).
Why is this happening? Well, because the action of taking a phrase from a song to use it in everyday life has a motivation behind it: to fulfill a communicative function.
Although these phrases become and then go out of style, the novelty is not reason enough. It is useless to use a phrase if it does not solve a communication problem for me. This problem can be a void: a specific situation, a behavior, a quality, for which until now it did not have a comfortable name; or the need for a more expressive option, because those that exist have already exhausted their strength. It can even be the appeal of an expression with humorous value, when the ones I have available are flat and gray.
Incorporating a new expression into speech to use it in the same context and, therefore, with the exact meaning it has in the song is uneconomical and, moreover, unlikely. Very few people are going to be in the same situation as the artist who conceived it, but many people are going to be in similar situations, whether in their personal, professional, or romantic lives, to which the phrase can be applied without problem , although its meaning is slightly modified.
In summary, I think it is correct to say that, in one way or another, all these expressions come out of popular music, either because they are born there or because, thanks to it, their use is generalized. Despite all this, the question of whether the phrase passes from music to language or vice versa does not seem so interesting to me. In fact, it is the least interesting of the questions one can ask oneself if one approaches these expressions as a curious linguist and not as a censorious elitist.
What is the raw material of these expressions?
What is the raw material of these expressions?
In these phrases from popular music we are not going to find references to Greek myths or to man's struggle against the cosmic absurdity or to the delicate balance that sustains ecosystems.
It is popular music. From the people, by the people and for the people. His referential domains —the areas of life and the world, the things he talks about— are the situations and contexts in which people's lives take place.
Creating a new and striking expression is not easy: it requires an intellectual effort that is not negligible. Making it popular is even more difficult: it needs to be recognized by the speaking community as valuable, useful; as well as the effort involved in learning a new phrase and being aware of when you can use it in a conversation. So studying what situations or areas of life these artists and their audience believed worthy of this effort, provides us with information about the aspects of human existence that this immense group of people consider important.
There will be no shortage of those who jump: "They're just talking about sex!" First, that is false: it is not only about sex. And secondly, the truth is that popular culture — from medieval picaresque songs, even earlier — has always attached importance to sexuality. Moralistic censorship, on the other hand, has come from above. It is not surprising then that expressions such as “you walk with the toto in your hand” (Ire Oma) have become popular, which, more or less directly, refer to sexuality.
Otras áreas a primera vista “banales” son la recreación: “playa, playa, piscina, piscina” (Juan Guillermo, JG); los juegos infantiles: “sin yoki, sin yaqui y sin pelotica” (Chocolate MC ft. El Úniko); el cine: “más rollo que película” (Dan Den); el deporte: “hay que estar arriba de la bola” (Manolín El Médico de la Salsa); los animales: “que venga la fiera” (NG La Banda); y los oficios: “que cosa la costurera” (Los Van Van). Aparecen también la tecnología, en “dale Play” (Paulito FG); los medios, en “voy a publicar tu foto en la prensa” (Los Van Van); y la religión, en “padrino, quítame esta sal de encima” (Kola Loka).
La gastronomía parece tener un puesto privilegiado y es lógico: nadie pondrá en duda que la comida es importante. Así, Elvis Manuel nos dejó “te voy a dar tres de azúcar y dos de café”, una frase utilizada antes por Leonel Limonta y Azúcar Negra en su disco Sin mirar atrás (Egrem, 2004); Gente de Zona dice “salte del sartén”; y Havana D’Primera canta “se te secó el picadillo”.
This is a contextualized music, without pretense of universality, anchored like few others to a geography. And this geography, both urban and national, is present in many expressions. Its emblematic places appear: "The Hill has the key" (Arsenio Rodríguez); "Take it easy, this is not camping here" (Chocolate MC); “Find out, Havana walks” (Manolín El Médico de la Salsa); "Until the Malecón dries up" (Jacob Forever), among others.
También su planificación física: “te pasaste una pila ‘e cuadras por ahí pa’ allá” (Havana D’Primera); y hasta el transporte y el tránsito urbanos: “yo soy una guagua” (Los Confidenciales) y “ponte un pare y deja la descara” (Anübix).
But without a doubt the first place corresponds to the socioeconomic situation of the country. Popular artists are, whether they want to or not, chroniclers of their time and of their society. Much of this music is born from marginal areas and the public easily adopts expressions that reflect and comment on what they experience daily. Phrases such as “un papirriqui con guaniquiqui” and “find a tremble to support you” (both by David Calzado and the Charanga Habanera) became popular, among other reasons, because they were faithful to a reality. Not the only reality, it is worth saying; there is El Micha, who assures us that he takes the lady "con dinero y pasma'o."
Vemos otros aspectos de la realidad socioeconómica en expresiones como “pidiendo el último y pa’ atrá” (Yomil y El Dany ft. El Micha), que se refiere a las colas; o “¿Quién tiró la tiza? (el negro ese)” (Clan 537), referente a la problemática racial.
What are they used for?
Neither of these expressions is useless. They all have, both in the song they come from and in the language that receives them, a communicative function. They are used for something. Despite the variety of sentences and their referential domains, the communicative functions do not seem to be many. In fact, the 79 I collected are grouped into just four groups.
Many are exhortation phrases that invite you to do something. Sometimes these are purely playful exhortations, but other - the most - they encourage specific behaviors. Often, they are accompanied by criticism or condemnation of the other's behavior: "stop abusing the diver" (Issac Delgado) and "you have to stop" (Yomil and El Dany).
The latter overlap with the group they are used to describe or value. There are those that express positive evaluations of a situation, but the normal thing is that they are from the artist himself and his work: “Van Van is a fat thing” (Los Van Van), or “quality is quality” (El Micha). However, most of the voice overs I found have negative ratings. They can be from a general situation, as in "how's the yogurt!" (Ogguere), or that of the artist himself: “I'm smooth” (no money) (Chocolate MC); but the most common is that they are directed to the other, where the now classic “you're inflating”, by Chocolate MC himself, stands as one of the best examples.
A notable number of these negative evaluations are directed at women: "let go of me, mine" (Jacob Forever), "you are a witch, a witch without feelings" (NG La Banda). In fact, according to the research I was able to carry out, the only expressions that come close to a positive assessment of women are “if your gaze killed…”, although I have already pointed out that this phrase is used for anyone, not only for women; and "loose hair and road" (Manolín El Médico de la Salsa), depending on how you want to interpret it.
This underlines the sexism and misogyny that, we know, persist in Cuban society and that find their reflection in popular music. More generally, the disproportionate presence of negative evaluations tells us that this music is eminently critical, questioning.
A third important function of these expressions is to serve as status statements. By using them, the artists, and later the speakers, position themselves above other members of the group, giving themselves a certain degree of social prestige.
As I mentioned before, much of this music is born in marginalized contexts, so the phrases help us to understand what the status and prestige within these groups are based on.
It may be about a prestige sustained in the geographical area, as in "El Cerro has the key"; or to also be given by the supposed attractiveness and the sexual prowess of the artist, as in "I take her with money and amazement" (El Micha).
Otras fuentes importantes de estatus y prestigio son la autonomía ( “no me da mi gana americana”, de Kola Loka); el valor o la osadía (“si tú eres el loco de la mata ‘e coco, yo soy el loco de la mata ‘e guao”, del Chacal); la autenticidad, originalidad o unicidad (“empújalo, que es de cartón”, de Lazarito Valdés y Bamboleo, o “el que esté que tumbe (que vengo como de costumbre)”, de Manolín El Médico de la Salsa); las cualidades ocultas, el misterio y la capacidad de sorprender (“tú no me calculas”, de Paulito FG); el conocimiento (“yo te conozco de atrás”, de Manolín El Médico de la Salsa); o la potencia (“yo soy una guagua”, de Los Confidenciales).
As this is a music conscious of itself, which never forgets that it is a product that competes in a market, many expressions explicitly state the status of the artist with respect to the competition, although the speakers later adapt them to other situations. This is the case of “the last thing the ship brought” (El Micha), which underlines the superiority and novelty of its product; "Until the Malecón dries up" which speaks of the persistence and longevity of the product; or “asking for the last and back” (Yomil and Dany), which places them in the first place.
Finally, only one of the expressions that I found works as a marker of the speech, that is, it reflects an attitude of the artist / speaker towards what he is saying, to guide the person who listens. It is about "normally, girl" (Wildey), whose meaning is so general and diffuse that I am not even going to try to elucidate it.
The general image that these expressions draw us is, then, that of a social context of constant confrontation, in which the individual promotes his own virtues (real or not) and hammers on the defects and deficiencies (real or perceived) of others . This, of course, is not exclusive to popular music or marginalized areas. It is the same mechanism that we find, for example, in political or religious discourse. It seems that this is how human groups work.
How are they constructed and what literary value - yes, literary - do these expressions have?
Una vez que sabemos para qué se usan estas locuciones en la comunicación, podemos preguntarnos por los procedimientos lingüísticos que se usan para construirlas. Los Van Van, por ejemplo, se sirvieron de los mecanismos propios de la lengua española para crear “titimanía”, una palabra formada por el sufijo manía —que indica pasión o hábito obsesivo— y titi — que en el habla popular significa joven— para transmitir la idea de su “obsesión por las titis o jóvenes”.
Algunas frases son variaciones de palabras y expresiones ya existentes. “Yo soy el riqui-ricón” es una variación de la palabra rico; “bajanda”, variación del gerundio bajando con valor de imperativo; mientras que “estás inflando” (también de Chocolate MC) es un acortamiento de la expresión popular inflar globos, decir mentiras.
Otras variaciones más complejas las encontramos en “si tú eres el loco de la mata ‘e coco, yo soy el loco de la mata ‘e guao”, donde El Chacal desarrolla una frase popular existente, “el loco de la mata de coco”; y en “padrino, quítame esta sal de encima”, donde Kola Loka desarma la palabra salación, usada para referirse a una situación negativa o problemática, por lo general producto de la mala suerte.
Un caso especial es el de “sin yoki, sin yaqui y sin pelotica”, donde Chocolate MC y El Úniko toman la frase ya existente sin yoki, usada en otra canción para referirse a una mujer de comportamiento libre (como un caballo o yegua sin jockey o jinete), y la desarrollan basándose primero en la sonoridad (sin yaqui) y luego en la asociación (la pelotica con la que se juega a los yaquis). Estos tres elementos, uno detrás de otro, crean un efecto acumulativo, un clímax semejante al que lograra Góngora cuando le advertía a una muchacha que, con la edad, su belleza se convertiría “en tierra, en humo, en polvo, en sombra, en nada”.
Algunas expresiones se basan sobre todo en la sonoridad de las palabras. A veces, en la rima, como en “déjate de abuso con el buzo”; otras, en la repetición de sonidos para lograr efectos, como en “búscate un temba que te mantenga” y “el que esté que tumbe”, donde la repetición de las consonantes t, b, m and k es rítmica e imita la percusión. Esta repetición, llamada aliteración, no es distinta de lo que hiciera Rubén Darío con “los suspiros se escapan de su boca de fresa”, donde la reiteración del sonido s enfatiza la delicadeza.
The repetition of vowels, called assonance, is also one of the reasons why “un papirriqui con guaniquiqui” became popular. Not only does it refer to a recognizable reality, but it also sounds good.
The expressiveness of the sounds was undoubtedly the reason why El Yonki coined “canchanfleta”, which sounds exactly like what it means: a cowardly, mediocre person, without substance. The same pronunciation of some words, called homonymy, is the basis of "Qué cosa? Qué cosa la costurera ”.
The metaphor - the comparison between two realities - also gives rise to many of these expressions: "Estoy liso", "más roloque película", "lo úlitmo que trajo el barco", "comes out of the pan", "bacalao con pan" , “Yo soy una guagua”, “tu maletín” (NG La Banda), are all metaphorical expressions. In the case of “Who threw the chalk? (the black that) ”the metaphor rises to symbolism and allegory.
We also find other figures of style: antithesis, which is the union of opposing concepts or ideas, both in "tight, but relaxed" (Vocal Sampling), and in "love is so short and oblivion is so long ”, By Pablo Neruda.
We have hyperbole, which are expressive exaggerations, in "I killed you with the data" (Manolín El Médico de la Salsa) or "hasta que se seque el malecón." Lorca also exaggerated when he said: "because of your love my air, my heart and my hat hurt."
Cuando Juan Guillermo, JG, canta “playa, playa, piscina, piscina”, está construyendo, quizás sin saberlo, una epizeuxis o palilogia, que consiste en la repetición de una palabra en un mismo verso. Recordemos a Lorca otra vez en “Se ven desde las barandas, / por el monte, monte, monte”.
And when Yoruba Andabo sings the antimetabole “la caliente pa’ arriba de ti y tú pa’ arriba de la caliente”, he looks like Dumas with his "one for all and all for one" and Socrates with his "eat to live, no live to eat ”.
¿Qué nos dice todo esto? Que, cuando oímos esta música, no estamos oyendo solamente música popular, sino además literatura. Si es cierto que, como dije en otro momento, “el valor literario de una obra o de un creador pasa necesariamente por la capacidad y la habilidad de usar el lenguaje de manera creativa”, es innegable que las canciones donde se originan estas expresiones tienen valor literario.
Here a question arises that may launch other research: Does the ability of an artist to create expressions have any weight in their popularity and in the pleasure that the public experiences when consuming their music?
I would answer yes without reservation. My impression is that there is a conscious effort, on the part of many popular artists, to create striking phrases that "hit", that "clash". It also turns out that the expressions that are disseminated in popular speech are usually, as we have seen, those that best exemplify that creativity. At the end of this research, I have one certainty left: linguistic creativity is part of the aesthetic and consumer value of popular music.