July 2008 rozinlapaz

It’s early morning in La Paz, quiet enough to hear faint sounds. A hummingbird hovers at the feeder, its call a jumble of high squeaks. From somewhere in the kitchen, a gecko chirps. And then there are the roosters.

They started crowing long before dawn and now they’re in full-throttle: “Erk-erk-EEERRRKKK-erk.” Every time I hear a rooster, I think he’s calling out, “Happy BIRTHday! Erk-erk-EEERRRKKK-erk!” Today’s not my birthday, but one day he’ll get it right.

The traditional song for birthdays and other important holidays in Mexico is Las Mañanitas. It’s sometimes sung as an early morning serenade. You will hear it at birthday parties, before the cake is cut, and at celebrations of a person’s Saint’s Day. There are many versions of Las Mañanitas. Farther down the page is one set of lyrics and an English translation.

But first, have a listen to one of my favourite versions of the song. Pedro Infante is the most famous actor and singer of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, from the 1930s until his death in a plane crash in 1957. He was an idol of the Mexican people. Here’s a YouTube clip from that Golden Age of Mexican film:

If this is your special day, we wish you ¡Felíz cumpleaños! Happy birthday! or, as they say in my neighbourhood of La Paz, “Erk-erk-EEERRRKKK-erk!”

Las Mañanitas
Estas son las mañanitas (these are the morning songs)
Que cantaba el rey David (that King David sang)
Hoy por ser día de tu santo (because today is your Saint’s Day)
Te las cantamos así (and so we’re singing them to you)

¡Despierta, mi bien, despierta! (wake up, my dear, wake up!)
Mira que ya amaneció (look, it’s already dawn)
Ya los pajaritos cantan (the birds are already singing)
La luna ya se metió (the moon has already set)

¡Qué linda está la mañana (how beautiful is the morning)
En que vengo a saludarte (in which I come to greet you)
Venimos todos con gusto (we are delighted to come)
A placer a felicitarte! (and with pleasure congratulate you)

El día en que tú naciste (the day that you were born)
Nacieron todas las flores (all the flowers bloomed)
Y En la pila del bautismo (and at the christening font)
Cantaron los ruiseñores (the nightingales sang)

Ya viene amaneciendo (the sun has already risen)
Ya la luz del día nos dio (as the day begins anew)
Levantarte de la mañana (wake up and greet the morning)
Mira que ya amaneció (look, it’s already dawn)

Here’s one more YouTube version of the song. Topo Gigio, a mouse with dreamy eyes and childish personality, was the lead character of a children’s puppet show on Italian television in the early 1960s. After appearances on Ed Sullivan’s weekly TV show, Topo Gigio’s popularity spread around the world. He sings Las Mañanitas in Spanish, of course:

(originally posted July 2008)