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La Cucaracha ("The Cockroach") is a popular Mexican folk song about a cockroach who cannot walk. The song's origins are unclear, but it dates back at least to the 1910s during the Mexican Revolution. The song belongs to the Mexican corrido genre. The song's melody is widely known and many alternative stanzas exist.
The song consists of verse-and-refrain (strophe-antistrophe) pairs, with each half of each pair consisting of four lines featuring an ABCB rhyme scheme.
The song's earliest lyrics, from which its name is derived, concern a cockroach that has lost one of its six legs and struggles to walk with the remaining five. The cockroach's uneven, five-legged gait is imitated by the song's original,
- La cu-ca- | ra-cha, la cu-ca-ra-cha
- | ya no pue-de ca-mi-nar
- por-que no | tie-ne, por-que le fal-tan
- | las dos pa- titas "de" a-trás.— [nb 1]
- ("The cockroach, the cockroach / can no longer walk / because she doesn't have, because she lacks / the two hind legs to walk"; these lyrics form the basis for the refrain of most later versions. Syllables having primary stress are in boldface; syllables having secondary stress are in roman type; unstressed syllables are in italics. Measure divisions are independent of text line breaks and are indicated by vertical bar lines; note that the refrain begins with an anacrusis/"pickup.")
Many later versions of the song, especially those whose lyrics do not mention the cockroach's missing leg(s), extend the last syllable of each line to fit the more familiar 6/4 meter. Almost all modern versions, however, use a 4/4 meter instead with a clave rhythm to give the feeling of three pulses.
The song's verses fit a traditional melody separate from that of the refrain but sharing the refrain's meter (either 5/4, 6/4, or 4/4 clave as discussed above). In other respects, they are highly variable, usually providing satirical commentary on contemporary political or social problems or disputes.
The origins of "La Cucaracha" are obscure. The refrain's lyrics make no explicit reference to historical events; it is difficult, if not impossible, therefore, to date. Because verses are improvised according to the needs of the moment, however, they often enable a rough estimate of their age by mentioning contemporary social or political conditions (thus narrowing a version's possible time of origin to periods in which those conditions prevailed) or referring to specific current or past events (thus setting a maximum boundary for a version's age).
There exist several early (pre-Revolution) sets of lyrics referring to historical events.
Francisco Rodríguez Marín records in his book Cantos Populares Españoles (1883) several verses dealing with the Reconquista, which was completed in 1492 when the Moors surrendered the Alhambra to Spain:
One of the earliest written references to the song appears in Mexican writer and political journalist José Joaquín Fernández de Lizardi's 1819 novel La Quijotita y su Prima, where it is suggested that:
During the Mexican Revolution of the early 20th century, "La Cucaracha" saw the first major period of verse production as rebel and government forces alike invented political lyrics for the song. Many stanzas were added during this period that today it is associated mostly with Mexico.
The Mexican Revolution, from 1910 to about 1920, was a period of great political upheaval during which the majority of the stanzas known today were written. Political symbolism was a common theme in these verses, and explicit and implicit references were made to events of the war, major political figures, and the effects of the war on the civilians in general. Today, few pre-Revolution verses are known, and the most commonly quoted portion of the song are the two Villist anti-Huerta stanzas:
This version, popular among Villist soldiers, contains hidden political meanings, as is common for revolutionary songs. In this version, the cockroach represents President Victoriano Huerta, a notorious drunk who was considered a villain and traitor due to his part in the death of revolutionary President Francisco Madero.
An example of two Zapatist stanzas:
Among Mexican civilians at the time, "La Cucaracha" was also a popular tune, and there are numerous examples of non-aligned political verses. Many such verses were general complaints about the hardships created by the war, and these were often written by pro-Zapatistas. Other non-aligned verses contained references to multiple factions in a non-judgmental manner:
La Cucaracha as a female
Soldiering has been a life experience for women in Mexico since pre-Columbian times. Among the nicknames for women warriors and camp followers were Soldaderas, Adelitas, Juanas, and Cucarachas.
Soldiers in Porfirio Diaz's army sang "La cucaracha" about a soldadera who wanted money to go to the bullfights. For the Villistas, "'La cucaracha' wanted money for alcohol and marijuana. She was often so drunk or stoned that she could not walk straight," writes Elizabeth Salas in Mexican Military: Myth and History. "Unlike corridos about male revolutionaries like Villa and Zapata, none of the well-known corridos about soldaderas give their real names or are biographical. Consequently, there are very few stanzas that ring true about women in battle or the camps," Salas writes.
Apart from verses making explicit or implicit reference to historical events, hundreds of other verses exist. Some verses are new, and others are ancient; however, the lack of references and the largely oral tradition of the song makes dating these verses difficult, if not impossible. Examples follow:
Performers of the song
- Paz Flores y Montalvo Francisco (1934) – a Villist version.
- Louis Armstrong (1935)
- Cagga Levander (1949-1956)
- Judy Garland (1935)
- Dick Mine (1936)
- Terry Snyder and The All Stars, Enoch Light (1959) on Persuasive Percussion Volume 2
- Cuco Sanchez (1959) from The Soldiers of Pancho Villa
- The Skatalites (1964) – as "Ska-Racha"
- Edmundo Ros & His Orchestra (1965) on Latin Melodies Old and New
- Bill Haley & His Comets (1966) – as "La Cucaracha a Go-Go"
- James Last (1967)
- Kumbia Kings (2002)
- Chingon (2004) – as "Cuka Rocka"
- Lila Downs (2004) on the CD "Una Sangre"
- Orphei Drängar (2006) – "La Cucaracha arr. Robert Sund"
- Nathalia Ramos (2007) sung as the character Yasmin with her "Bubbie" in Bratz
- Big Idea (2008) – featured in DDR Disney Channel Edition
- Piñata Protest (2013)
- There exist numerous versions of this line; the most common ones include "una pata par' [para] andar" ("a leg to walk [on]"), "la patita principal" ("the front leg"), "patas para caminar" ("legs for walking"), and "(las) la pata de atrás" ("[the] two back feet"). Versions mentioning specific numbers of legs are associated with a children's game and counting song in which participants pull the legs off a captured cockroach, singing the stanza once per leg and removing the leg as the number (increasing by one per stanza) is sung. Other versions discard any mention of the cockroach's missing leg(s) at all, substituting unrelated material (e.g., the "Marihuana pa' fumar" of the well-known anti-Huerta version).
- Editors of the American Heritage Dictionaries (14 November 2007). Spanish Word Histories and Mysteries: English Words That Come From Spanish. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 72. ISBN 0-547-35021-X.
The origin of La cucaracha is disputed, but it dates from at least the time of the Mexican RevolutionCS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
- Adams, Cecil. What are the words to "La Cucaracha"?. The Straight Dope. Chicago Reader. 27 July 2001.
- Marín, Francisco Rodríguez. Cantos Populares Españoles Recogidos, Ordenados e Ilustrados por Francisco Rodríguez Marín. Sevilla: Francisco Álvarez y Ca. 1883.
- Fernández de Lizardi, José Joaquín. La Quijotita y su Prima. 1819.
- LA CUCARACHA (Canción Tradicional - Mexico). Lyrics Playground. Retrieved 6 February 2009.
- Salas, Elizabeth (January 1990). Mexican Military: Myth and History. University of Texas Press. ISBN 978-0-292-77638-8.
- Orozco, José Clemente. "El baile de la cucaracha". Mexicana. Retrieved 7 December 2019.
- "La Fiesta De Santa Barbara". You Tube. TheJudyRoomVideos. Retrieved 7 December 2019.