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Macarena — its origin, its song, its saint

A flamenco guitar duo from Seville called Los Del Rio played a double bill in a Caracas hotel with a dancer

We are condemned to hear that other Macarena until the end of time.
  • We are condemned to hear that other Macarena until the end of time.
  • Image by Rick Geary

Dear Matt: A three-part question, if you don’t mind. (1) Regarding this new craze of the cute little Macarena dance, where and how did it originate? (2) Is it not true that the trumpet solo played before every Mexican bullfight is called “La Macarena”? (3) Isn’t the patron saint of all Mexican bullfighters known as the Virgin of the Macarena? And what really is “La Macarena”? — W.N. Mancoff, Escondido

It really is the Latino payback for the bunny hop. It’s also the first serious challenge to “A Horse with No Name” as the century’s largest musical black hole. And I’m sorry, Mr. Mancoff: “Muskrat Love” is “cute,” the Macarena is dangerous. I think they’re testing it on lab rats even as we speak. The Alice offices are an official “Macarena”-free zone, so I have to answer this one out on the patio.

Regarding question number one, “Macarena” isn’t particularly new, as pop songs go. The original version dates from ’92. According to the official history issued by intergalactic Macarena headquarters somewhere in the digital domain, the song was written in Venezuela by two Spaniards; but the version that’s plagued North Americans was recorded in Miami by a Cuban, a Puerto Rican, and a Colombian.

Like the Chicago fire or the voyage of the Titanic, “Macarena” started innocently enough. In this case, boys meet girl, boys like girl, boys write song. Sometime in late 1992, a flamenco guitar duo called Los Del Rio, two gentlemen from Seville, played a double bill in a Caracas hotel with a dancer named Diana Patricia Cubillan. They’d all met a year earlier, and apparently Los liked what they saw. When they were reunited in Caracas, uno of the duo, Antonio Romero, was so swept up by the moment that he sang out to her, “Dale a tu cuerpo alegrla, Macarena” (the first line of the chorus). My high school Spanish is up on blocks for repairs, but that’s kind of “Oooh, Macarena, don’t it feel good to get out there and shake that thang.”

If Antonio had just left it at that, the future of pop music might not look so dim today. But he’d been mugged by the muse, I guess, and by the end of the night he’d handed over his watch, wallet, good sense, and the original version of “Macarena.” Within months Los Del Rio had the number-one hit on the Iberian pop charts and, one can assume, were making triumphant appearances on Good Morning, Espana and the Continental equivalent of Sabado Gigante.

Actually, the original “Macarena” bears only a passing resemblance to the North American big-hit remix by the Bayside Boys, commissioned by a Miami radio station in ’95. They de-flamenco’d it, techno’d it up a little, sanitized the lyrics, lit the fuse, and ran for cover. It blew several other “Macarena” versions off the air. In the original song, Macarena is a sly hoochie-mama looking for a new papi chulo now that her old boyfriend has gone off with the army. She’d also like to move to New York and buy lots of expensive clothes. In the Bayside version, you get the idea that Macarena is all talk and no action. (Was this information made available to Tipper before she and Al Macarena’d at the convention? Probably not.)

By the way, no one claims responsibility for the “dance,” which started in Spain and spread to Latin America. Perhaps it found its way to the U.S. accidentally when the instructions were used for packing material in a box of Chia Pets. There is one story — way too good to be true — that says the hand movements of the Macarena are an imitation of some guy being stopped by the cops, searched, handcuffed, and arrested. The dance is undoubtedly popular because anybody, absolutely anybody can do it; and it’s not like Swan Lake, where if you make a mistake, we’d notice. Macarena instructions can be found on the Internet (like you’re real surprised...), and I’ve heard rumors of a Macarena screen saver — Macarena-ing macaroni. In the Matthew Alice Macarena you bring your right hand up to cover your right ear, repeat on the left, wiggle your butt, and leave the room.

So where’s the bullfight connection? If there is any, it’s probably in the fact that Los Del Rio are from Seville. “Macarena” is a Spanish woman’s name. It has its roots in Andalucia’s Moorish past; she may have been an Arabic princess. One of the very old barrios on the eastern edge of Seville is named La Macarena. You can still see Roman ruins in the area. La Macarena’s neighborhood church is home to the statue of the Virgen de la Macarena that is carried by her devotees during the Good Friday processions. Bullfighters, no fools, supplement their skills with a solid relationship with higher powers, and La Macarena is one of their favorites. “La Virgen de la Macarena” is a song (not the familiar trumpet salute), and you’ll hear it at every major bullfight.

We, on the other hand, are condemned to hear that other Macarena at sports-events halftimes, weddings, bar mitzvahs, proms, quinceaneras until the end of time. I did see one ice-rink DJ nearly lunge out of his booth after a pair of ten-year-olds whining that they wanted to hear the song “just one more time, puhleeeeeez.” But there aren’t enough like him, I’m afraid.

January 9 update

The following bulletin contains additional details about the infernal macarena. Rational adults should read no further unless accompanied by a child or preteen. We assume no responsibility for hair loss or embarrassing itching caused by an overexposure to useless pop-music information.

From James Patterson somewhere in faxland comes the news that not only does someone claim to have started the macarena dance, he is perhaps proud of the fact. Mr. Patterson cites no sources for this wisdom, but since I couldn’t possibly care less whether it’s true or not, I’ll just offer it as communicated to me. “One of the Los Del Rio guys [the composers of the original “Macarena” in 1992] says that he invented the dance one night during a concert. He says he was just fooling around during the music bridge onstage and started doing it, and then people in the audience started doing it, and they told a friend, and they told a friend, and so on and so on and so on.” I still like the guy-being-frisked-cuffed-and-arrested-by-the-cops story better.

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