Ignoring the Warning of "La Bruja"

By Nathan Payne | pablosmoglives | 16 Nov 2022


"'La Bruja' (The Witch) is a popular traditional song from the state of Veracruz, Mexico.  There's various tales and legends in Mexico and one of those is of La Bruja, which can perhaps be compared to the legend of the vampire 'Dracula' (made popular by Bram Stoker).  La Bruja is a supernatural creature that sucks/drinks the blood of her victims.  La Bruja is also a traditional dance of the state of Veracruz, the victim in the song is seduced by the witch.  The dance consists of a glass or candle placed on top of the head of the dancers.  The song was a favorite of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, who also interpreted it."  From LyricsTranslate

One thing I find interesting about Mexico is the variety of traditional songs that have been part of the cultural backdrop for decades.  "La Sandunga," "La Llorona," "Fallaste Corazón," and countless others are timeless songs that still hold a prominent place in Mexican culture.  When Mexican kids blast music, they usually blast traditional Mexican music.  You sometimes hear trendy, auto-tuned sound product I like to refer to as "Latin Money Pop," and rap music isn't nonexistent, but mostly you'll hear variations on the German-sounding, polka-based Narco beats in which accordion and tuba dominate the sonic landscape.  I never heard anybody shred on a tuba until I came to Mexico.  The last time I saw a tuba, it almost ate the 8th-grader sitting next to me, who was struggling to keep the instrument upright, nevermind actually playing it.  But in Mexico, they shred on it.

It's worth mentioning that my fascination with and interest in Latin American music and culture doesn't mean I don't think the U.S. has any culture.  Absolutely it does.  American culture suffers from recipients and participants who take it for granted, don't appreciate it, and even malign it, but American culture is great.  Rockabilly, James Dean, Steve McQueen.  Miles Davis, Mark Twain, Vonnegut.  Kerouac, The Ramones, Simon & Garfunkel.  The 1969 Dodge Charger.  I don't want to make a list, but I could.  American culture is great.  I have mourned its passing long enough to have moved beyond the "denial" stage of grief, but I miss it.  American culture is great.

When I was at the country music festival in Brazil in 2018, everybody wanted to know what kind of country music I liked.  I was the only American on the entire 3-day bill, and they really wanted to know what kind of country music I liked.  That's what they asked.  What "kind" of country music do I like?  I dunno.  All of it?

Here are the posters, in which my name is prominently featured in a prime spot on a Friday night.  Note the Confederate Flags on the poster, and ask yourself if you actually think that flag means what they want you to think it means.  Personally, I have no idea why anybody believes anything they ever hear that isn't set to music (or in the Bible), but what do I know.

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That was a great show.  They'd picked a bunch of us up in a beat-up school bus at the airport in São Paulo, and we went up into the jungle, winding through the mountains like a python.  We stopped for snacks and drinks, but I was out of money by that point, and only had a small handful of useless Chilean pesos.  Somebody bought me some water.  All the South Americans got back into the bus with their beer and joie-de-vivre and sang songs all the way up the mountain like a bunch of happy miners.  The bus driver even broke out his guitar while everybody was in the roadside store, and played a song for us while we waited.  I couldn't turn my camera on in time, but I caught the last chord of his song:

The bus:

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On the bus (poster available on Redbubble)

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They dropped us off at the hotel, in which I fortunately had my own room (not being part of a band).  Some of the bands had to share a room, but not only was I a solo act, I was getting sick from having to move at the last minute in Buenos Aires, toting my guitar around the Argentine subway at the crack of dawn (9 or 10am) on no sleep, after getting rained on the night before and arguing with the hotel guy about the kids playing in front of my door at 9pm.  I told him if I'd known it was a hostel for loud, jumping children, I would never have booked the place.  He was highly offended, and told me to leave immediately without paying (I'd stayed one night already).  It was a huge blessing, because I didn't have enough money to pay him anyway.  I needed him to kick me out so I could get paid that night and get a different hotel.  I don't remember how I did it, but I was able to book one night at a better hotel a few streets down, around the corner.  It was a long morning, and my health began to fail that day.  Regardless, getting rained on like a stray cat on the streets of Buenos Aires after/before eating at some open-walled cafe, the day before a show, is one of my all-time favorite memories.

Here's the wet cat on the street:

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And drying off over a steak:

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And the view me and the steak had of the street:

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So I was huddled into my hoodie, trying hard to preserve my voice as all the gregarious, carefree South Americans drank and played guitar in the school bus winding up the hill toward the music festival in the Brazilian countryside.  They were very friendly.  It was then that I learned that "Mota" is a Mexican word, not a Spanish one.  I asked some Peruvians if they had any "mota," and they had no idea what I was talking about.  I had to make the puffing gesture to communicate my desire for weed.  They said, "oh, you mean weed?"  I said that I did.  They had never heard the word "mota" before.  They didn't have any.

The festival show itself was a fight gig, but a good one.  I had every technical problem conceivable, but pulled it off anyway, solo, and with my health and voice intact (thank you God).  By the grace of that same God, I killed it.  While walking offstage, one younger teenage girl who was standing with her parents saw me walking by and screamed like she'd seen Paul McCartney, or a ghost.  I had never been screamed at before, not like that.  Usually, when girls are screaming at me, it's to "get out," or "piss off," "go to hell," and the like.  It was the first time somebody ever screamed at me in excitement.  Her parents were there, and her dad spoke good English.  We had a good conversation for 5 minutes or so, then I went back to my hotel room to watch soccer on a pink TV and go to sleep.

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On the balcony of the hotel, outside the breakfast buffet, which was full of strange, exotic fruit with weird seeds and flavors:

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And the town itself:

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I had a show the next night in São Paulo, and couldn't hang out for the other bands, but I said my goodbyes and everything was cool with everybody except the tour manager, who was no longer my friend, and who told the driver to drop me off at the airport instead of in town, which was a problem.  There's no easy way to get from GRU to downtown São Paulo.  In fact there's no way to get into town from the airport at all, easy or otherwise.  Which isn't strictly true, but is true in effect.  I don't even know why they bothered to build an airport in the one place in the world in which it is impossible to get into town.  You land, and get off the plane, and ask somebody, "how do I get into town," and they look at you like, "what do you mean.  There's no way to get into town.  You have to stay here.  There's a flight to Dubai tomorrow, you can take.  There are daily flights to Santa Claus' mansion on the moon; one leaves in an hour if you like.  But if you want to actually get into town, sorry, there's no way.  I can't help you." 

It is easier to get into São Paulo from a raft floating aimlessly around the Maldives, than from the actual airport.  Fortunately, I had become friendly with Diego, the guy who was in charge of the school bus the day before, and who gave me a ride back to the airport the next day.  He didn't speak any English, and since Portuguese is an alien language which can only be understood by giant bugs, we understood nothing of what the other guy said.  In spite of this, our friendship was such that I understood him when he told me that the jungle was full of Anacondas and Pumas, and was a bad place to get lost.  It was a wild scene indeed, driving through those Amazonian towns, drowning in foliage and invisible pythons, hanging from the trees.  He got me to the airport, I freaked out in a subtle, unassuming way, he dropped 20 or 30 bucks on me (which I desperately needed), then I wandered around the airport until I found a guy who worked for Uber.  He happened to be getting off his shift within 5 minutes, so I copped a ride from him into town, and made it to the show.  But that's another story for another time.  Here's me and Diego, hanging out at GRU, waiting for the school bus to arrive:

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Anyway, the reason I bring the Brazilian trip up at all is, all these Brazilians, Peruvians, Chileans, many (though not all) of them dressed like Garth Brooks, they were really into it.  They dug the music, the aesthetic, the clothing, the vibe.  Like these people from Africa, except Latinos instead of Africans:

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https://www.bitchute.com/video/a4ZFRmaR3QWc/

It didn't occur to me how to answer the question, until after I'd left Brazil.  The answer to the question, "what kind of country music do you like" is simple:  I'm an American.  Relative to Brazilians, I am country music.  Americans invented it.  Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline, Willie Nelson and countless others were part of the cultural backdrop of my entire life.  They were (and are) the statues in the middle of town, the pillars and foundations upon which almost everything has been built, at least for the better part of a century.  They're not foreign to Americans.  They're not exotic.  They're natural.  They're from there (or here), just like us.  Everybody knows the songs, whether they know it or not.  Because the culture has been manufactured and falsified, it might be necessary to educate a modern sound-product consumer on something as basic as "Ring of Fire," or "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," but that's okay. 

Better late than never.

So, what's up with all the super-old, traditional Mexican songs, surviving all these years while being fed and watered and listened to and performed and replayed and appreciated like the priceless works of art they are?  As someone from a culture that paradoxically thinks there is something virtuous and superior in hating itself (or not appreciating itself, at least), like a bunch of humorless religious zealots whose dogma is the brightest star in their rigid, dying sky, I have no idea.

As though completely unaware of this trend of deaf, bloodless superiority that has been forced on the culture north of the Rio Grande, Mexicans sing this song about a WITCH, and have for years.  It's hard to find a Mexican artist who hasn't covered it.  While Johnny Cash is a statue in the center of town, and being a "fan" of him is like being a fan of your own blood, I have only ever learned ONE Johnny Cash song, which was in fact written by Kris Kristofferson.  But Mexicans love to cover "La Bruja," and it's no wonder why.  Like a beautiful woman staggering down a cobblestone street after drinking too much Mezcal, "La Bruja" swoons and collapses at your feet like a drunken ballet dancer, or a sheer nightgown from the hips of someone you really like.

Haunting:

Beautiful:

So what's it about?  "Bruja" means witch, so obviously a witch.  But why would an entire culture sing a song about a witch?  To glorify it in the name of pure Satanism?  To revel in the Godless hedonism of our own unchecked desires?  That would probably be the case if the song was in English.  If the song was in English, it would be burned at the stake by one half of society, while the other half adopts it as their anthem.  Neither side would ever actually listen to the lyrics, which would require critical thinking, artistic appreciation, and maybe even an open mind.  Both sides would abuse the song completely, telling it what it means, what it's about, and either rejecting or embracing it depending on which false interpretation they prefer.  But as it turns out, "La Bruja" is a kind of fairy tale.  Like Hansel & Gretel, it is a very poignant warning to children against witches.  Marine spirits, actually.  Maybe we should sing it.  We can sing it in English, if we like.  And we don't have to sing it in church, but why not normal life? 

How long shall we let La Bruja suck the blood from our culture in the name of false virtue? 

Are we going to ignore the warning about the witch, because the warning has the word "witch" in it?

Are we going to stop reading Hansel & Gretel to our children because the antagonist is... an antagonist?

I don't like to think about it, but in fact I'm sure we already have.

Thanks for listening.

 

The Witch

Oh! how wonderful it is to fly
at two in the morning
at two in the morning
Oh! how wonderful it is to fly, ay mama!

To fly and let yourself fall
in the arms of a lady,
Oh! how wonderful it is to fly
at two in the morning, ay mama!

The witch grabs me
she takes me to her house
she turns me into a pot
and into a pumpkin

The witch grabs me
she takes me to the little hill
she turns me into a pot
and into a little pumpkin

Oh! you must tell me,
tell me, tell me
how many little ones
have you drank from?

None, none
none, I don't know
I just want to
drink from you

Oh! I was frightened by a woman, where?
in the middle of the salty sea
in the middle of the salty sea
Oh! I was frightened by a woman, ay mama!

Why didn't I want to believe
what others had told me?
from above she was a woman
from below she was a fish, ay mama!

When I found my wife lying down
I pulled the covers, she says nothing
when I found my wife asleep
I pulled the covers and I ran out.

Oh! you must tell me,
tell me, tell me
how many little ones
have you drank from?

None, none
none, I don't know
I just want to
drink from you.

I found the witch
she was flying in the wind
she was flying in the wind
I found the witch, oh woman!

So I asked her:
"who are you looking for?"
she replied: "who are you?"
"I'm a huapango singer, ay mama!"

Hide your happiness,
hide Juana,
there's a witch
underneath the bed

Hide your happiness
hide Joba,
there's a witch out there
flying on her broom

Oh! you must tell me,
tell me, tell me
how many little ones
have you drank from?

None, none
none, I don't know
I just want to
drink from you

 

La Bruja

¡Ay! que bonito es volar
a las dos de la mañana
a las dos de la mañana
¡ay! que bonito es volar, ¡ay mamá!

A volar y dejarse caer
en los brazos de una dama,
ay! que bonito es volar,
a las dos de la mañana, ¡ay mamá!.

Me agarra la bruja
me lleva a su casa,
me vuelve maceta
y una calabaza

Me agarra la bruja
me lleva al cerrito,
me vuelve maceta
y un calabazito

¡Ay! dígame, dígame,
dígame usted,
¿cuántas criaturitas
se ha chupado usted?

Ninguna, ninguna,
ninguna no sé,
ando en pretenciones
de chuparme a usted

¡Ay! me espantó una mujer, ¿a dónde?
en medio del mar salado,
en medio del mar salado,
¡ay! me espantó una mujer, ¡ay mamá!

¿Por qué no queria creer
lo que otros me habian contado?
lo de arriba era mujer
y lo de abajo pezcado, ¡ay mamá!

Cuando a mi mujer la encuentro acostada
le jalo las colchas no me dice nada
cuando a mi mujer la encuentro durmiendo
le jalo las colchas y salgo corriendo

¡Ay! dígame, dígame
dígame usted
¿cuántas criaturitas
se ha chupado usted?

Ninguna, ninguna
ninguna no sé,
ando en pretenciones
de chuparme a usted

A la bruja me encontre
en el aire iba volando
en el aire iba volando
a la bruja me encontré, ¡ay mamá!

Entonces le pregunté:
que ¿a quién andaba buscando?
me dijo: ¿Quién es usted?
soy cantador de huapango, ¡ay mamá!

Escóndete Chepa,
escóndete Juana,
que ahí anda la bruja
debajo de la cama

Escóndete Chepa
escóndete Joba,
que ahí anada la bruja
volando en su escoba

¡Ay! dígame, dígame
dígame usted
¿cuántas criaturitas
se ha chupado usted?

Ninguna, ninguna
ninguna no sé,
ando en pretenciones
de chuparme a usted

 

p.s.  Lila Downs mentions something about "waking up at 3am" in her song "Zapata Se Queda," which might be a reference to the "2am" in "La Bruja."  3am is also well-known as the "witching hour."  Service-industry employees know that 2am is the "bitching hour," but 3am is supposedly the "witching hour."  Here's the video, complete with gratuitous Illuminati symbolism, which means that Latino culture has been infiltrated as well.  Too bad.  Good song:

 

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Nathan Payne
Nathan Payne

I am a songwriter and bandleader who travels the world in search of the golden ticket. http://www.pablosmoglives.com


pablosmoglives
pablosmoglives

Replacing my blog at http://pablosmoglives.wordpress.com

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