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"La Paloma" is a popular Spanish song that has been produced and reinterpreted in diverse cultures, settings, arrangements, and recordings over the last 140 years. The song was composed and written by the Spanish composer from the Basque region Sebastián Iradier (later Yradier) after he visited Cuba in 1861. Iradier may have composed "La Paloma" around 1863, just two years before he died in Spain in obscurity, never to learn how popular his song would become.
"La Paloma" belongs to a genre of songs called "Habaneras," a musical style developed in 19th-century Spain that is still today very much present in the form of folk songs and formal compositions, particularly in the Northern Basque Region and East Coast (Catalonia and Valencia) regions of the country. Like all "Habaneras," its characteristic and distinct rhythm reflects the fusion of the local Cuban songs that the Spanish sailors of the time brought back with them from their travels to the island, with the rhythm structure of the flamenco “tanguillo gaditano” (original from Cádiz, Andalusia). Very quickly "La Paloma" became popular outside of Spain, particularly in Mexico, and soon spread around the world. In many places, including Afghanistan, Hawaii, the Philippines, Germany, Romania, Zanzibar, and Goa it gained the status of a quasi-folk song. Over the years the popularity of "La Paloma" has surged and receded periodically, but never subsided. It may be considered one of the first universal popular hits and has appealed to artists of diverse musical backgrounds. There are more than one thousand versions of this song, and that together with "Yesterday" by the Beatles, is one of the most recorded songs in the history of music.
The motif of "La Paloma" (the dove) can be traced back to an episode that occurred in 492 BC, before Darius' invasion of Greece, a time when the white dove had not yet been seen in Europe. The Persian fleet under Mardonius was caught in a storm off the shore of Mount Athos and wrecked, when the Greeks observed white doves escaping from the sinking Persian ships. This inspired the notion that such birds bring home a final message of love from a sailor who is lost at sea. This theme that a final link of love overcomes death and separation is reflected in "La Paloma". While the lyrics may not always be true to the original, the soul of the song seems to survive all attempts to recast it in whatever new form and shape there may be and is able to express the tension between separation with loneliness, even death, and love.
"La Paloma" quickly became popular in Mexico. It was a favorite of Emperor Maximilian of Mexico, and at the same time the Mexican revolutionaries played and popularized it as well. After Maximilian's execution, as he was a Habsburg from Austria, it was a tradition that ships of the Austrian Navy would never play the song.
In the Portuguese novel The Crime of Father Amaro, written in 1871 by the considered greatest Portuguese writer, Eça de Queiroz, it is referred to as "[l]a Chiquita, an old Mexican song."
New lyrics (not translations) are available in many languages. They typically involve generic images of white doves and true loves. They lack the specificity of the original Spanish, in which a Cuban sailor laments parting from his "Guachinanga chinita" (his adorable Mexican sweetheart), and asks her to cherish his spirit if it returns to her window as a dove. Then he fantasizes that if he does return safely, they will marry and have seven, or even fifteen, children.
La Paloma is played in these movies:
- "La Paloma" Screen Songs cartoon, 1930
- The Private Life of Don Juan, 1934
- La Paloma, Ein Lied der Kameradschaft, 1934 (also listed as La Paloma, 1938)
- Juarez, 1939
- Große Freiheit Nr. 7, 1944
- Stray Dog, 1949
- Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1956
- La Paloma, Germany 1958,
- Freddy, die Gitarre und das Meer, 1959
- Freddy und der Millionär
- Adua e le compagne, 1960
- Blue Hawaii, 1961, Elvis Presley singing "No More"
- The Godfather Part II, 1974. The band are playing "La Paloma" in the opening scene of the New Year party in Havana.
- The Tin Drum (film), 1979
- Das Boot, 1981
- Mortelle Randonnée, 1983, Hans Albers singing a German version
- Schtonk!, 1992, with these lyrics: "Hermann Hermann Willié, Mit 'nem Akzent auf dem E, Du bist die grösste Supernase, Die ich am Bord hier seh'."
- The House of the Spirits, 1993.
- Sonnenallee, 1999.
- A Moment to Remember, 2004.
- Soul Kitchen, 2009.
- Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story, 2011.
- In the musical film Down Argentine Way, Charlotte Greenwood sings an upbeat, fast song called "Sing To Your Senorita". The melody is loosely based on that of "La Paloma".
Noted too that in the John Huston film version of Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon the name of the boat that delivers the black bird to San Francisco, the boat that later catches fire, is La Paloma.
Public domain lyrics
- 1. Cuando salí de la Habana
- ¡Válgame Dios!
- Nadie me ha visto salir
- Si no fuí yo.
- Y una linda Guachinanga
- Allá voy yo.
- Que se vino tras de mí,
- que sí, señor.
- Si a tu ventana llega una paloma,
- Trátala con cariño que es mi persona.
- Cuéntale tus amores, bien de mi vida,
- Corónala de flores que es cosa mía.
- Ay, chinita que sí!
- Ay, que dame tu amor!
- Ay, que vente conmigo, chinita,
- A donde vivo yo!
- 2. El día que nos casemos ¡Válgame Dios!
- En la semana que hay ir Me hace reir
- Desde la Iglesia juntitos, Que sí señor,
- Nos iremos a dormir, Allá voy yo.
- 3. Cuando el curita nos eche La bendición
- En la Iglesia Catedral, Allá voy yo
- Yo te daré la manita Con mucho amor
- Y el cura dos hisopazos Que sí señor
- 4. Cuando haya pasado tiempo ¡Válgame Dios!
- De que estemos casaditos Pues sí señor,
- Lo menos tendremos siete Y que furor!
- O quince guachinanguitos Allá voy yo
- Rüdiger Bloemeke: La Paloma – Das Jahrhundert-Lied, Voodoo Verlag 2005, ISBN 3000155864
- Sigrid Faltin / Andreas Schäfler: La Paloma – das Lied, Marebuch Verlag 2008, ISBN 3866480881
- Sheet Music for La Paloma
- "La Paloma" performed by the Banda de Zapadores de Mexico, Project Gutenberg
- Coro Alboni – La Paloma
- Gross, Thomas (5 July 2008). Heimweh für alle "La Paloma – Heimweh für alle". Schlager (in German) (Hamburg, Germany). Die Zeit. Retrieved 2013-04-17.
- Pankraz, Marcel Proust und das ewige Lied "La Paloma" (German)
- La Paloma (in German)
- Video Event 2004
- NY Times Review of movie La Paloma (1938) from 09-08-2008
- Review (German) by cinefacts
- IMDb La Paloma. Sehnsucht. Weltweit. – A documentary