Mexican-American rockers Ritchie Valens and Los Lobos turned “La Bamba” into one of the most recognizable Spanish-language songs in the United States. But as the October 14 episode of “American Anthem” explains, the song has deep roots in the musical canon.
Listen as host Shereen Marisol Meraji tracks the song through Mexican folk tradition and the birth of son jarocho—a mix of musical styles from enslaved Africans, oppressed Indigenous people and Spanish conquistadors in Veracruz, Mexico. The segment puts this history in conversation with the present, where anti-racist protesters and group Las Cafeteras both draw on the song’s cross-cultural legacy for contemporary resistance.
The segment, complete with commentary from ethnomusicologist Alexandro Hernandez, is below: