Danza Negra

Danza Negra

The following poem is a rhythmic song that’s going to be a really fun piece.  First, we are going to learn how to sing the song or poem using a certain cadence.  Second, we will read the poem in that manner.  Following this, you can read my translation.  In translating the poem, I employed my beginner level Spanish skills as well as a heavy dose of artistic license. We will discuss my word choices and interpretation and your preferences in the commentary.  Lastly, there’s a word about what I know of the origins of the poem and my perspective on the subject.

Okay!  Here’s how the read the poem:  As you read the lines in a rhythmic cadence, the bold text marks the syllable that gets the stress.  The syllables in the middle are often squished together as in, “Es el sol de hierro q’arde’n Tombuc”.  So watch out for that.  I put an asterisk (*) where I’m not sure how it’s read exactly.  Other than that, after you get the rhythm, it should be pretty easy.

Let’s try a verse:

Cala y bam.

Bam y cala.

El Gran Cocoroco dice: tu-cu-.

La Gran Cocoroca dice: to-co-.

Es el sol de hierro que arde en Tombuc.

Es la danza negra de Fernando o.*

El cerdo en el fango gruñe: pru-pru-prú.

El sapo en la charca sueña: cro-cro-cró.

Cala y bam.

Bam y cala.

Great!  Now let’s do the whole thing.

***

Danza Negra

Calabó y bambú.

Bambú y calabó.

El Gran Cocoroco dice: tu-cu-tú.

La Gran Cocoroca dice: to-co-tó.

Es el sol de hierro que arde en Tombuctú.

Es la danza negra de Fernando Póo.

El cerdo en el fango gruñe: pru-pru-prú.

El sapo en la charca sueña: cro-cro-cró.

Calabó y bambú.

Bambú y calabó.

Rompen los junjunes en furiosa ú.

Los gongos trepidan con profunda ó.

Es la raza negra que ondulando va

en el ritmo gordo del mariyandá.

Llegan los botucos a la fiesta ya.

Danza que te danza la negra se da.

Calabó y bambú.

Bambú y calabó.

El Gran Cocoroco dice: tu-cu-tú.

La Gran Cocoroca dice: to-co-tó.

Pasan tierras rojas, islas de betún.

Haití, Martinica, Congo, Camerún;

las papiamentosas antillas del ron

y las patualesas islas del volcán,

que en el grave son

del canto se dan.

Calabó y bambú.

Bambú y calabó.

Es el sol de hierro que arde en Tombuctú.

Es la danza negra de Fernando Póo.

El alma africana que vibrando está

en el ritmo gordo del mariyandá.

Calabó y bambú.

Bambú y calabó.

El Gran Cocoroco dice: tu-cu-tú.

La Gran Cocoroca dice: to-co-tó.

***

Jail and Cane

Cane and Jail

The boss man says: tu-cu-tú

The boss lady says:  to-co-tó

It’s the sun of irons that burns in Timbuktu (Mali)

It’s the black dance of Fernando Póo.

The swine in the mud grumbles: pru-pru-prú

The stuffed-shirted toad in the pool dreams: cro-cro-cró

Jail and cane

Cane and jail

Beat those that gather in furious ú (ultimar – final, to kill, ultraje – outrage)

The gongs vibrate with profound ó

It’s the Black race that, undulating, goes in the fat rhythm of Mariyandá.

The big bosses gather at the party already.

Dance what you’ll dance, the black he gives.

Jail and Cane.

Cane and Jail.

The boss man says: tu-cu-tú.

The boss lady says: to-co-tó.

They pass the red lands, isles of tar.

Haiti, Martinique, Congo, Cameroon;

The Papiamento-speaking Antilles of rum

And the Patois-speaking Isles of the volcano

How burdened they are with the song they give.

Jail and Cane

Cane and Jail

It’s the sun of irons that burns in Timbuktu (Mali)

It’s the black dance of Fernando Póo.

The African soul is vibrating

In the fat rhythm of Mariyandá.

Jail and Cane

Cane and Jail

The big boss says: tu-cu-tú

The lady boss says: to-co-tó

***

As the Spanish experts out there can tell, I’ve slanted the interpretation toward the more political usages of the words in the poem.  Calabó and bamboo are supposedly types of wood found in Africa and/or the Carribean and their selection could be purely cultural or for rhythmic effect but I believe that their use as terms of oppression fit better than neutral terms for mere musical aesthetic.  The term calaboose is an old term in English for jail (calabo in Spanish) and I believe that bamboo in this sense probably refers to its use in administering punishment to those in the calaboose.  Now that you know where I’m going with this, you can guess why I chose to interpret the poem the way I did.

The poem uses onomatopoeia and made up words called jitanjáfora to establish a beat. I don’t believe that they are meaningless words however; I think they reference a few things that add to the message. I came up with some good words for what I think the dangling syllables (, , prú, ó, etc.) allude to but only wrote down the juicy one(s).

Danza Negra was written by Luis Palés Matos’ who is from Puerto Rico.  He was a prominent poet in the movement around Afro-Antille poetry, la poes’a afroantillana, in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  I know next to nothing about this subject but I’m willing to suppose that this poetic movement had a lot of connections to Pan-African social movements at that time and therefore chose political double-entendres purposefully.   In the case of this poem, I believe Palés Matos chose words that evoke the slave trade and class relations in the Carribean colonies.  Any suppositions I have, however, were gleaned from just a quick glance over the material in these two links:

http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1997/1/97.01.03.x.html

http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/cultural_critique/v047/47.1colon.html

I can’t wait to hear your reactions and corrections.  Hope this was fun!

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13 Comments

  1. Brad B said,

    August 21, 2009 at 6:03 am

    Just two comments on your translation. “papiamentosas” has nothing to do with the pope or papists. I believe it’s referring to papiamento, the only Spanish based creole. It makes more sense since the next line talks about patois. And there’s no stuff-shirted in the description of the toads. Where’d you get that.

  2. thedialect said,

    August 25, 2009 at 3:18 pm

    Good work on the papiamento! I’ve never heard of that but here it is in my Dictionary of Linguistics!! “Papiamento: a creolized Spanish, spoken by the natives of Curaçao.” Brad, you’re a genius!

    As for where I got ‘papist’, after looking back through my dictionaries I can’t exactly find how I got that. I wrote down a whole bunch of neat double entendres and then picked the one I thought was neat, I suppose.

    As for ‘stuffed shirted toad’. In my Bantam New College Dictionary from 1968, it has for Sapo: toad; (coll) stuffed shirt; (Chile) little runt. Also, my Dictionary of Spanish Slang has for Sapo: gossipy and nosy. I liked the idea of a stuffed-shirted toad – someone who is overly formal and thinks they are important but is really just a frog in the mud. I like to use my older dictionaries because I suspect that they have ‘old people definitions.’

    Thanks for the edits!

  3. thedialect said,

    April 11, 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Hey everybody,

    This is consistently the most searched-for and viewed post on The Dialect. It must be that people have to read this for school. I’d like to hear back from someone who discussed this poem in class or had to write about it. What is the reaction to my interpretation? What can you tell us here so that others will benefit from your research?

    Thanks, The Dialect

  4. January 2, 2011 at 4:19 pm

    […] Danza Negra August 2009 3 comments 3 […]

    • Karen said,

      March 13, 2011 at 11:23 am

      El Gran Cocoroco is the head chief of an african tribe. He uses rhyme, musical effects, and sounds similar to that they use in the Caribbean. Fernando Poo= is an island in Guinea.

  5. D@Ni-L said,

    September 25, 2012 at 7:15 pm

    Your translation really helped! Yes, I searched it because I have to read it for school. Unfortunately we have to answer questions about it and then we are graded on that, but we never get to discuss them to see if we were right or wrong. Sorry I’m not much help! BTW, I like the idea of a ‘stuff-shirted’ toad. I thought it was because their big throats that expand looked like a stuffed shirt. 🙂

  6. Amelia said,

    December 24, 2012 at 6:35 am

    Aw, this was an exceptionally good post. Taking the time and actual effort to create a superb article…
    but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and never manage to
    get nearly anything done.

  7. January 11, 2013 at 6:08 am

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  8. January 31, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    I think the admin of this web page is genuinely working hard for his website, since here every data is quality based material.

  9. thedialect said,

    December 31, 2013 at 1:49 am

    Thanks a ton you guys! D@ni, Amelia, Karen, Sherman, and Water Heaters! You are awesome. Some of y’alls comments got deleted because they sounded too much like a robot foreigner businessman but the two comments that were excessively complimentary toward The Dialect’s stilo got retained. Keep your comments coming!

  10. Maria Clarin said,

    May 30, 2014 at 6:19 am

    Your translation is brilliant! Thank you!
    Have you seen this interpretation by our Lucecita (“Little Light”) Benitez and the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EoJjGFwE-E8

  11. Lidia Ortiz said,

    March 2, 2016 at 8:34 pm

    Thank you so much I was looking for an interpretation to discuss this in class because is a complicated poem. This post is very helpful I really appreciate it. It makes more sense now

  12. Jane Johnson said,

    March 20, 2017 at 8:57 pm

    Hey, just wanted to tell you this was really helpful!


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