Wednesday, March 12, 2008

mami el negro esta rabioso (el africano)

This post has been rattling around in my brain for a couple days now (or longer depending on how you count) but Kismet "made me" finish it a little bit more quickly due to her comment on negro bembon.

If anyone wants to look at how race shows up in Latin music, "El Africano" by Wilfrido Vargas (actually written by Calixto Ochoa, but Vargas went further with it) is a necessary "text". In one version, the song lyrics are:
Mami el negro esta rabioso,
quiere bailar/pelear conmigo,
decicelo a mi papa.

Mami el negro me echa miedo,
me tapo la cabeza
y el negro me destapa.

(or alternatively)

Mami, yo me acuesto tranquila
me arropo de pie a cabeza
y el negro me destapa.

CORO :
Mami que sera lo que
quiere el negro?
(repeat)


Wlfrido Vargas: El Africano



The classic merengue tune is about a "rabioso" (angry, literally "rabid") black man uncovering the innocent girl who has little experience with "lo que quiere el negro" (what the black man wants). On one level it is a festive party anthem, but on another it pretty clearly perpetuates certain alarmist attitudes towards Black sexuality. (e.g. see race and sex)

DJ Laz made heavy use of a Vargas sample and updated the song musically, if not lyrically. While more recently, Cuban-American rapper Pitbull came out with "The Anthem" featuring Lil' John as an homage to the original. Miraculously, he manages to make the lyrics more lascivious (the girl is certainly not calling her daddy for protection) and racist (adding typical Latin stereotypes of Black female/"morena" sexuality to stereotypes of Black male sexuality).

DJ Laz: Mami El Negro


Pitbull: The Anthem


So far, my favorite piece in this lineage is "Mami El Negro" by the 'conscious' Spanish (as in from Spain) rapper El Chojin. To be honest, I never heard of El Chojin until working on this post but he is growing on me. I also like the Grenada-esque anti-bling anthem Si Mi Chica Se Llamara Shakira /If Shakira was my girlfriend. But in "Mami El Negro" he is the most explicit in terms of breaking down the racist content of the original song, along with the ignorance and prejudice he faces in his everyday life.

El Chojin: Mami El Negro


Lyrics to "Mami El Negro" by El Chojin

Alguien me pregunto de donde soy! hombre no es la misma cancion
pero si es un poco mas de lo mismo racismo,
he crecido como muchos han crecido
escuchando la cancion de los conguitos, la del negro negrito
y payasadas por el estilo
y me las he comido siendo un niño
pero amigo he crecido y tanta estupidez me ha convertido
en un hombre orgulloso y decidido
a no aguantar ni una broma mas,
me cago en el payaso de George Dan,
los del colacao, los de la Warner y todos los demas,
retrasados, que yo nunca me he reido de un blanco por ser blanco,
tanto tonto tan simpatico, tan asno rebuznando
"ah tu no tienes que tomar el sol en verano"
me daban pena pero ya estoy arto,
me dais asco, tontos que sois tontos
y lo curioso es que se creen graciosos
pues mami ahora el negro esta rabioso
otro tonto y monto el pollo gordo,
bobo te cojo y te pongo rojo,
avergüenzate si alguna vez creiste que de veras un blanco
con taparrabos gritando en lo alto de un arbol podria ser el rey de algo, no
a Tarzán se lo comio el miedo al hombre negro,
un desconocimiento inmenso te ha hecho ciego, terco, memo y no tengo porque entenderlo,
ser bueno paciente y toda esa mierda,
al proximo que me venga con la ingeniosa idea
de decir que me parezco a Jordan, Eddie Murphy o al que sea se la lleva,
ea o sea que esta es vuestra manera de hacer que me sienta en vuestra tierra integrado,
pues lo siento pues la habeis cagado,
yo no me quiero sentir integrado
tengo mi peña, mi micro, mi dj y los platos
y bastante interesado que paso,
que ni somos iguales ni tenemos que aparentarlo,
mami ahora el negro esta rabioso
pero es porque tu le has cabreado

¿Mami sabes tu que es lo que quiere? Que el negro esta rabioso de oir a tanto lerdo
¿Mami sabes tu que es lo que quiere? Que el negro esta rabioso es hora de exigir respeto
¿Mami sabes tu que es lo que quiere el negro? No hay ningun problema mientra veas donde termina el juego
¿Mami sabes tu que es lo que quiere el negro? Pues que le dejes simplemente ni mas ni menos

Es cierto, las cosas son mucho mas sencillas de lo que parecen
no tenemos porque andarnos con estupideces,
ya somos mayores, mira, no somos iguales,
no te escandalizes el racismo existe
es real y esto no es una llamada a la reconciliacion
es simplemente informacion
porque sabes que?
lo cierto es que no me importa una mierda lo que tengas en la cabeza,
simplemente callatelo, no hagas comentarios,
no intentes ser gracioso y ya veras como asi a todos nos va a ir mucho mejor,
que yo no tengo porque ser mejor persona que tu,
que no te he pedido de ningun favor, simplemente digo las cosas como son,
soy realista y tener esta actitud la que me han hecho tener a lo largo de mi vida,
ha hecho que incluso haya gente que me llama racisma,
es la risa, o sea que me vigilan, hacen chistes, cancioncitas,
no me quieren en sus familias y encima yo soy el racista
pues nada hombre cuidado que te tengo discriminado,
a ver si voy a hacer que te sientas marginado o algo,
mira cuando alguien dice lo que todos piensan pero no lo dice,
se le decalifica pero bueno asi es como funciona esto,
pero bueno yo soy el que tiene el micro, tengo un disco y consigo
que lo que digo se te meta en el cerebro
ahora piensa por ti mismo firmado el Chojin 1999 a diez meses del 2000


see also:
shakira and wycleff at the grammys

27 comments:

Abdul-Halim V. said...

This is probably the object of the George Dan reference in El Chojin's rap:

HERE

Laura said...

I found your blog trying to come across the original lyrics for that very song.

I am a Mexican American, more Texan than anything else. Though I was born in Mexico (not raised there).

I have mixed feelings about certain social norms in Mexico. Coming from an American (U.S.) perspective, on my visits to Mexico and with immediate family (cousins, even 3rd cousins who live close enough) it's always been obvious that there is strong racism in Mexico in regards to Africans (descendents). I always considered this song a bit perverse (given that I was very young when I first heard it). But I've been lucky enough to visit other pars of Latin America (Namely Peru and Costa Rica), where while racism is still rampant, it doesn't seem as strong as in Mexico.

I was wondering what your take is on physically specific nicknames. I encountered lotsa "Chinos" in Costa Rica for example. And an Argentine friend affectionately called her boyfriend "negro". Do you think the use of "Morena" and "Negro" in Pittbull's remix are exacerbated in negative connotation because of the context, or do you think those words are negative in and of themselves?

Abdul-Halim V. said...

thanks for stopping by... hmmmm.... good question. I guess in general I would say everything depends on context and intention.

I don't think that there is anything wrong with merely describing what people look like, but problems can sometimes come up with the set of other concepts which get attached to people who look a certain way. (That's what I tried to get across with my critique of the song and the way the "negro" is hyper-sexualized)

In some circles it is almost a cliche to say that Latin America is less racist then the US because "negrito" and "mi negro" etc. are terms of endearment. But a long time agao I read an article which put an interesting spin on the issue. The article pointed that terms of endearment are specifically meant for relationships which don't involve formal respect. So you can call your boy/girlfriend "my little goofybear" but that doesn't make being a "goofybear" a positive thing to say to a person in the street.

I grew up being called "mi negro" and "mi negrito" (with the possessive) by relatives (I'm Afro-Cuban American) and I'm "fine" with that coming from an aunt but not from random folks.

I tend to think of it being like how in African-American communities 'Boo (short for Jigaboo) is also a term of endearment.

In terms of Chino, I don't think it is necessarily meant as offensive. But I also notice that alot of times people don't make a distinction between Japanese, Korean, Chinese, etc. so it is sometiems used ignorantly.

Laura said...

I don't think Latin America is free of racism. But for the most part, we are a group of subjugated people (Africans, Mestizos, Indios, etc) who went through a revolution and "freed" ourselves from our oppressors, and there will always be clashes between people of different ancestry.

P.S. In Costa Rica there are generally more Chinese Immigrants than any other Asian Immigrants, hence the widespread term "Chino". And really the only times I've heard "Chino" "Negro" "Morena" etc, has been in a familial context.

Blaque said...

I also noticed this while searching the lyrics because I love the original song, as well as the Pitbull version. Your blog was really interesting, and I had a question.

I'm also (predominately) Afro-Cuban American. As well as Italian, Dominican, and a million other things between my parents.

From the Cuban side of my family, I've always been referred to, among other things, as "mi negrita" or "morenita" because due to both my parents being of African descent, I'm one of the darker members of my family. I've never taken offense, or even given in a second thought until "negra" was said to me with a negative connotation.

So I agree, I think it's all about context.

But I digress, I had a question. I also read your blog titled "Shades of Race in Contemporary Cuba" and in a way, Cuba is post Civil War America. In the "The Making of a Slave/Willie Lynch's Letter to the Slave Owner" (I believe that's the title) it talks about how turning the dark against the light will last for hundreds of years. Though I'm considered light, I've never understood why dark was bad. Why is it that dark has such a negative connotation? And why did turning the dark against the light prove to be such an easy task in the long run?

Dani said...

This is an interesting post. When I heard Vargas' "El Africano," I wondered if anyone thought it was racially suggestive. Reading through your post, it seems that we were thinking along the same lines. I just think that's it interesting that if song were in English, I don't think it could have been released for a general audience.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Dani,

I agree. I think that Latin American music is definitely in a different place (lyrically, racially) compared to modern music in English.

Anonymous said...

First off, the original song is from the perspective of "la negrita" thus the the racist stereotype of an oversexed black male is duly nullified. Furthermore in some Latin American countries the word "negro" is not dysphemic. As is the case in Brasil where the portuguese equivalent is used quite extensively. If one were to use a pejorative term towards the "black" populace, it would be "mayate" or the equivalent.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Anonymous, I think your observations are worth considering but I don't think the situation is as simple as you would like to make it.

First off, I still have never seen/heard a version of the song actually performed by a Black woman so just because the persona taken by the singer is "la negrita" that doesn't mean a whole lot. The people who are actually singing are relatively light-skinned men, for the most part.

And in terms of whether "negro" is a positive term or a negative term, I address that in an earlier comment. Yes, I think that if you take a general superficial view "negro" can be positive, but I think there are still aspects of it which are questionable.

Anonymous said...

I believe, perhaps you are attempting to read too much into the background of a culture. Yes, there is systemic racism against the "black" populace. But in terms of modern culture one only has to look at the iconic Celia Cruz who uses the word negro/a quite extensively without any negative connotations. The fact that she is embraced ubiquitously. I would argue that its similar to the use of the word "nigga" by many african-american communities to denote some common bond that empowers them as a group. The use of the word is such that it transcends the black community and is employed by many of the "inner city" youth. But like all language, there is a social space that requires negotiation and the lines aren't always clear.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I'm not sure what you mean by "read too much" but I would agree with much of what you said.

Oscar said...

Why

Oscar said...

Was commenting but didn't finish. I was wondering, why not research Calixto Ochóa instead? I think it would help you better understand the motives behind the lyrics. I can't remember where, but I do remember some interviews with him, and some where he explains "El Africano". Peace.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

Thanks for the suggestion. I think I did some initial internet searches for more info but maybe if tried harder I would have been able to go further back with this.

Douglas said...

theres alot of hispanic racists just like every single race, but this song is originally not a racist song haha, its more of a playful/sexy thing, where the girls basically like, "should i? is it wrong? it feels wrong.. ma what do you think the man wants from me?" dont take it literally its more of an implied sexy playful message to set a festive sexy mood on the dance floor. people dance to it, its not like people are gonna dance to a song about a girl literally being scared that shes gonna get raped by a black man. its the kind of thing you only get if youre hispanic. you cant translate every thing in a different language, some stuff just doesnt sound right or make sense in other languages/cultures when translated literally.

Perezr86 said...

Hispanic are of all different races whether white, black, native indian or even asian. So naturally there are going to be issues with race within latin america as there is in anglo america. The difference with Anglo America and Latin America is that Latin America never really had a civil rights movement as they did in the USA. For this reason Latin Americans are not as sensative when discussing race. The reason Latin America never really had a Afro Civil Rights movement is because for the most part countries in Latin America consist of 1)Countries which populations consist of the majority being of african decent or mulato such as the Dominican Rep. and Panama or 2)countries where the population of people of African decent are a very small minority such as Mexico, Chile, Peru (which majority is mestizo or Native Indian). So, Afro civil rights was ether unnessary or in countries like peru and mexico afro civil rights would of went unnoticed because they make up such a small minority.

The reason why we had a civil rights movement in the US is because the USA has a very large Black population and also has a large white population. This is what caused conflict and because USA's Black population is so large there voices were heard. The


A Civil Rights movement could have never happened in Latin America as it did in the USA except for maybe in Cuba before Castro, Brazil, Colombia or Venezuela. Which are countries which have large populations of Blacks and Whites. Though even in these countries a Civil rights movement would be unlikely because many of those which are of african descent are extremly poor living in shanty town on the edges of large cities and are uneducated. This make it even difficult for them to stand up for they're rights. It not easy to start a civil rights movement when your hoping you could afford dinner

Anonymous said...

First of all, this needs to be looked at culturally. It then needs to be looked at generationally. When looking at Cubans, there are pre-Mariel, Marielitos, and Balseros, and they all have their guajiros...

There is no Hispanic word that directly translates the word Nigger. Negro=black period, end of story. The song is not racially charged. This is an Americanized "ooh he said nigga, nigger, jigaboo, enter your racial slur here, song".

Looking at it from outside the culture and period will create several opinions. And you know opinions are like belly buttons (or another orifice). To say this song is racially charged is to say Celia Cruz is a racist for singing "Esa negra me tiene tumbao".

Give me a break. Play the song, turn it up, shake your white-black-brown-yellow-or blue (if you happen to be a Smurf) ass, and enjoy the music from a culturally rich jewel in the caribbean.

Abdul-Halim V. said...

I think you are entitled to your opinion but it is silly to argue that the song isn't racially charged at all. Calixto Ochoa could have made a song "Mami el hombre esta rabioso" but they didn't.

Also, the Celia Cruz example is actually not convincing either. A dark-skinned black Latina singing about blackness is obviously going to be different from a light-skinned "white" Latino singing about blackness.

Lynda said...

Hmm, I remember listening to this song when I was a child (waaaaay back in the day). I always knew the song as being about a clueless newlywed who didn't understand why her husband was trying to take her covers off.

jamie (aka afro) said...

pues siempre he dicho "mami el güero 'sta rabioso" jaja.

Karen said...

I happen to stumble upon this post while searching the song lyrics to the original to deduce whether it were appropriate to add to my ipod. I'm Canadian by birth and white (very - I really need to tan!:P). My mother's family is from a nothern part of Spain, thus I am Spanish. In Canada we are very multi-cultured and respectful of other races, whether the person is White, Black or Mexican- to us it does not make a difference, we are all human beings just with a few different genetic programming. That is how I've been raised and taught my whole life (notice I'm only 17, yet wish to give my perspective on the matter). With no subjectiveness and no empathy towards the culture and original artist, it would be assumed that the song does infact have a racist connotation. However, this does not suggest that we can say that the Latin American culture is racist or that the laws are very different and if this were to have come out in the U.S it would not have been released. The fact of the matter is it didn't come out in the States, no instead it was released Latin America as a song to dance to. The connotation is actually more playful than racist (although stereotypes are present). It is more of a culture thing in which no harm is intended. An example of this would be "Arabian Nights" in the Disney movie "Aladdin" in which many stereotypes of the Arabic population were made. Yet, the song was still released and played for the youth of the world. And guess what- it was released in the U.S. Does this not deserve the same scrutiny as this song? Or is making claims against one race worse than another? The answer should clearly be "no" as all races are equal and should be respected; unfortunately it is not always seen this way. Yes, this song does have the word "negro" in it, but while kept in mind "negro" does not translate into negro or n*gger, as there is no direct translations for such derogatory terms within the Spanish languge (that I am of aware of, at least). I believe that analysis of this song is interesting and progressful, yet creating angst or conclusions about the overall population is completely wrong and close-minded - or to put it more specifically ignorance. There is racism in every single country in the world. I have been to numerous places in the U.S. many times as it is so close, and I have actually been asked and addressed to my whole family "but if you're Spanish, why are you white?" This simply demonstrates the ignorance of certain people and their need to be more culturally aware. In the end, there is racism and will probably be always some in different parts of the world; the only aspect we can judge is the population's growth and maturity to the subject which finally is the respect given to other races.

Karen said...

I happen to stumble upon this post while searching the song lyrics to the original to deduce whether it were appropriate to add to my ipod. I'm Canadian by birth and white (very - I really need to tan!:P). My mother's family is from a nothern part of Spain, thus I am Spanish. In Canada we are very multi-cultured and respectful of other races, whether the person is White, Black or Mexican- to us it does not make a difference, we are all human beings just with a few different genetic programming. That is how I've been raised and taught my whole life (notice I'm only 17, yet wish to give my perspective on the matter). With no subjectiveness and no empathy towards the culture and original artist, it would be assumed that the song does infact have a racist connotation. However, this does not suggest that we can say that the Latin American culture is racist or that the laws are very different and if this were to have come out in the U.S it would not have been released. The fact of the matter is it didn't come out in the States, no instead it was released Latin America as a song to dance to. The connotation is actually more playful than racist (although stereotypes are present). It is more of a culture thing in which no harm is intended. An example of this would be "Arabian Nights" in the Disney movie "Aladdin" in which many stereotypes of the Arabic population were made. Yet, the song was still released and played for the youth of the world. And guess what- it was released in the U.S. Does this not deserve the same scrutiny as this song? Or is making claims against one race worse than another? The answer should clearly be "no" as all races are equal and should be respected; unfortunately it is not always seen this way. Yes, this song does have the word "negro" in it, but while kept in mind "negro" does not translate into negro or n*gger, as there is no direct translations for such derogatory terms within the Spanish languge (that I am of aware of, at least). I believe that analysis of this song is interesting and progressful, yet creating angst or conclusions about the overall population is completely wrong and close-minded - or to put it more specifically ignorance. There is racism in every single country in the world. I have been to numerous places in the U.S. many times as it is so close, and I have actually been asked and addressed to my whole family "but if you're Spanish, why are you white?" This simply demonstrates the ignorance of certain people and their need to be more culturally aware. In the end, there is racism and will probably be always some in different parts of the world; the only aspect we can judge is the population's growth and maturity to the subject which finally is the respect given to other races.

Anonymous said...

words and phrases can't be translated well, which is why we interpret among languages to get the full meaning. as a US citizen of mixed european descent who speaks several languages I assure you the term negrito or negro is generally not perceived as exclusively racial. that said, I avoid using the term as it would have a different implied/inferred meaning coming from me.I can separate art and politics. Some rabid (get it) right wingers won't listen to the Dixie Chics or Bruce Springsteen. Some Jews won't listen to Wagner. When listening to music I prefer to dance than consider the polemics of a song.

Enjoyed peoples comments and the original post.

thanks.

Kenneth W. said...

Malcolm X said it best, "So I'm not here...as a Republican, nor as a Democrat; not as a Mason, nor as an Elk; not as a Protestant, nor a Catholic; not as a Christian, nor a Jew; not as a Baptist, nor a Methodist; in fact, not even as an American, because if I was an American, the problem that confronts our people today wouldn't even exist.", he later said, "I am a black man lost in this wilderness they call America."
With that said, I began dating a Colombian woman this year who visited me for 3 months. It was during this time that I initially heard this song play on the radio. Upon hearing it, she immediately became animated and excited. Increased my car radio volume, danced and sang the song proudly. Meanwhile, I was puzzeled by the negro reference. Ironically, she believes we are both black but I beg to differ. I asked her to explain the song which she interpreted to mean that the woman wanted to have sex with her man who happen to be black. She went on to say that black men in her country are known as good lovers and such. I gathered from her that the references to negro were positive thus I looked up the translation and found this dialogue. We consider this song special to us and appreciate it's longevity. But I must admit, I was initially offended.

Kenneth W. said...

Malcolm X said it best, "So I'm not here...as a Republican, nor as a Democrat; not as a Mason, nor as an Elk; not as a Protestant, nor a Catholic; not as a Christian, nor a Jew; not as a Baptist, nor a Methodist; in fact, not even as an American, because if I was an American, the problem that confronts our people today wouldn't even exist.", he later said, "I am a black man lost in this wilderness they call America."
With that said, I began dating a Colombian woman this year who visited me for 3 months. It was during this time that I initially heard this song play on the radio. Upon hearing it, she immediately became animated and excited. Increased my car radio volume, danced and sang the song proudly. Meanwhile, I was puzzeled by the negro reference. Ironically, she believes we are both black but I beg to differ. I asked her to explain the song which she interpreted to mean that the woman wanted to have sex with her man who happen to be black. She went on to say that black men in her country are known as good lovers and such. I gathered from her that the references to negro were positive thus I looked up the translation and found this dialogue. We consider this song special to us and appreciate it's longevity. But I must admit, I was initially offended.

Anonymous said...

Abdul,

Thanks much for this post, I'm glad to know I'm not the only person who takes insult/issue with this old-school "classic".

The other night, I walked into a Latin bar, with the intention of just having a drink and mixing it up for the eve... and bout 45mins into it, (as the only obviously Black man in the small bar), the DJ throws on Pitbull's version of this track. Yeah, my palms started to sweat, and my grip on my drink got tighter, the Venezuelan bartender even looked a lil queasy and shot me a, "Did that just happen?" glance... I had to post a laugh about it on FB via my phone to calm down.
I didn't let it end or ruin my night, but it clearly got under my skin, which is why/how I ran into your post.

Being an American of Afro-Cuban descent, *(and having grown up in Meeami)...I too have heard this song my whole life... and I've always had mixed feelings about it. In every culture we ignorantly jab/jib at each other in the name of fun, to get a laugh etc... but that fact shouldn't justify those actions. Especially since everyone's sensitivity varies strongly towards different subjects.
The only way I can rationalize this song's existence is the realization that the part of culture this song belongs to, is "lowbrow" culture. The folks who wrote/produced this album weren't trying to change the world, they were trying to cut up and have a good time. They were trying to scandalize/titalize by talking about sex, the same way much of merengue does,(which is a whole other issue). But they were "having fun" at the expense of their over-sexualized/stereo-typed projection of a random "Africano".

You can't tell me that in writing this song, the thought that people might be offended didn't cross someone's mind. A human being conceived/wrote/produced it... with several others contributing their time/effort to record it. It didn't materialize out of thin air. The negative connotations in the song weren't of consequence to them, only because the laugh/thrill they got was stronger.
And that's a big part of Latin culture, "Solo estavamos jugando!/Solo era una broma!" Almost any degrading/low insult can be justified if you say it was just a joke. I won't even get into racism w/ in our culture, because racism permeates as a faulty human condition to all.

Intentional or not, this song and it's insinuations are racist. If you need further proof beyond the actual lyrics, maybe the performers sloppy/disrespectful imitation of an African man "speaking his language" will make it clear for any of you left doubting it.

Anonymous said...

Found a couple of vids that shed light on the song... it doesn't help that the song's creator, (who's made millions of the track) is Black:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNhi5MYpxGg


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZOxet-wIlY