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.
Before the Cerro cerra’o de Insurrecto, some already asked "What are you forming?" But the moment Insurrecto sang "What are you forming?", The phrase spread —thus, with the subject you at the end— and became recognizable. It is not very different from what happened with “if you ask me for the fish, I'll give it to you”, which dates from the time of Cuban vaudeville, but which, with La bella del Alhambra, returned to popular Cuban speech and has never been gone.
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.
Other areas at first glance "banal" are recreation: "beach, beach, pool, pool" (Juan Guillermo, JG); children's games: “without yoki, without yaqui and without pelotica” (Chocolate MC ft. El Úniko); the cinema: “more roll than film” (Dan Den); sports: “you have to be on top of the ball” (Manolín El Médico de la Salsa); the animals: “let the beast come” (NG La Banda); and the trades: "what a seamstress" (Los Van Van). Technology also appears, in “dale play” (Paulito FG); the media, in "I'm going to publish your photo in the press" (Los Van Van); and religion, in "godfather, get this salt off me" (Kola Loka).
Gastronomy seems to have a privileged position and it is logical: no one will doubt that food is important. Thus, Elvis Manuel left us “I'm going to give you three of sugar and two of coffee”, a phrase used before by Leonel Limonta and Azúcar Negra in their album Without looking back (Egrem, 2004); Gente de Zona says "get out of the pan"; and Havana D’Primera sings “your picadillo dried up”.
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."
We see other aspects of the socio-economic reality in expressions such as “asking for the last and back” (Yomil and El Dany ft. El Micha), which refers to the queues; or “Who threw the chalk? (the black that) ”(Clan 537), referring to the racial problem.
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?
Once we know what these phrases are used for in communication, we can ask ourselves about the linguistic procedures used to construct them. The Van Van, for example, used the mechanisms of the Spanish language to create "titimanía", a word formed by the suffix manía - which indicates passion or obsessive habit - and titi - which in popular speech means young - to transmit the idea of his "obsession with marmosets or young".
Some phrases are variations of existing words and expressions. "I am the riqui-ricón" is a variation of the word rich; "Bajanda", variation of the gerund going down with imperative value; while “you're blowing up” (also from Chocolate MC) is a shortening of the popular expression to blow up balloons, to tell lies.
Other more complex variations are found in "if you are the madman from the bush, I'm the madman from the bush", where El Chacal develops an existing popular phrase, "the crazy man from the coconut bush" ; and in “godfather, get this salt off me”, where Kola Loka disarms the word salty, used to refer to a negative or problematic situation, usually the product of bad luck.
A special case is that of "without yoki, without yaqui and without pelotica", where Chocolate MC and El Úniko take the already existing phrase without yoki, used in another song to refer to a woman with free behavior (such as a horse or mare without jockey or horseman), and they develop it based first on the sound (without Yaqui) and then on the association (the ball with which the Yaquis are played). These three elements, one after the other, create a cumulative effect, a climax similar to the one achieved by Góngora when he warned a girl that, with age, her beauty would become “earth, smoke, dust, shadow, In nothing".
Some expressions are based primarily on the loudness of the words. Sometimes, in rhyme, as in "stop abusing the diver"; others, in the repetition of sounds to achieve effects, such as “find yourself a tremble that keeps you” and “the one that falls down”, where the repetition of the consonants t, b, m and k is rhythmic and imitates percussion. This repetition, called alliteration, is not different from what Rubén Darío did with “the sighs escape from his strawberry mouth”, where the repetition of the sound emphasizes the delicacy.
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."
When Juan Guillermo, JG, sings "beach, beach, pool, pool", he is building, perhaps without knowing it, an epizeuxis or palilogia, which consists of the repetition of a word in the same verse. Let us remember Lorca again in "They are seen from the railings, / by the mount, mount, mount".
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 ”.
What does all this say? That, when we hear this music, we are not only hearing popular music, but also literature. If it is true that, as I said at another time, "the literary value of a work or of a creator necessarily passes through the ability and ability to use language creatively", it is undeniable that the songs where these expressions originate have literary value.
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.
Ernesto Wong García