Yesterday, I read an article in the San Antonio Express-News that the Today show asked Mariachi Campanas de America not to play the mariachi’s anthem, “El són de la negra.” Here’s a bit from the article:
That popular folk song, whose title translates to “The Song of the Black Woman,” was the renowned mariachis’ first choice for their performance Wednesday on the “Today” show. But the show’s producers asked Campanas de America not to sing it when “Today” broadcasts from the Arneson River Theater next week.
“It’s the mariachi national anthem,” said Belle Ortiz, manager of Campanas de America. “We always play ‘El Son de La Negra.’ Everybody plays it.”
The reason for rejecting it? “Because they didn’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings because of the name of the song,” Ortiz said.
A show spokeswoman said this was not a case of political correctness.
“The song ‘El Son de La Negra’ was by no means deemed too controversial for ‘Today,’” publicist Megan Kopf said via e-mail.
“We always consider several song choices for our musical performance segments on the ‘Today’ show. For this particular segment, we decided to go with a song selection that is both appropriate for our wide-ranging ‘Today’ show audience and that also keeps with mariachi tradition.”
This is clearly the Today show worrying too much about offending a group of people over a song that is not offensive at all. I don’t but the Today’s show explanation at all. If I were put in the position Campanas was put in, I would rather lose the work than not be allowed to play this song. “La negra” is an essential part of the mariachi repertoire and is universally recognized. It is synonymous with mariachis and México.
Another aspect of this situation is the actual meaning of “La negra.” The most commonly accepted meaning is that the song is about a woman, “La negra”, the black one. This analysis hinges on the lyrics “Negrita de mis pesares/ojos de papel volando” (“Black one of my sorrows/eyes of paper flying). Those verses don’t make any sense. The proper lyrics (which fell out of fashion, for some reason) are “Negrita de mis pesares/hojas de papel volando” (Black one of my sorrows/Sheets of paper flying).
A few weeks back, this very topic was discussed over at El Mariachi.com. There is no definite interpretation of “La negra” because the song is from the mid-to-late 1800s. The meaning that I prefer is that “la negra” refers to a train. The beginning of the song is that of a train picking up steam and the train is “la negrita de mis pesares,” which brings sorrow to the author because his love has not come on the train. As the train passes, the wind picks up sheets of paper.
Other parts of the songs don’t fit well into this intepretation, but that is probably because of the time that has passed since the song was first written. Everyone interprets the song differently, but interpreting the song as inappropriate because its “kind of saucy” is insincere, considering the airplay that other, more objectifying, songs receive from T.V. shows.