Sunday, April 17, 2005

Shakira's new song

I really do like Shakira Mebarak's music.  I suppose it would be futile to pretend that's all I appreciate about her.  But I really do like her music!

It seems to be fairly common among Latina pop singers to use only the first name.  And, of course, she goes by Shakira.  It may originally have had something to do with marketing considerations of not using an Arabic last name.  But there are quite a few of her fellow Columbians who are also of Arab descent, Lebanese in her case.  The Middle Eastern musical influences and the belly dancing are part of her family cultural heritage.  And it mixes awfully well with the Latin musical styles on which she draws.

It's been a while since her last album, Laundry Service.  And this year she's finally coming out with a new album, which she's putting out in both Spanish and English.  According to her Web site, the Spanish title of the new album will be Fijación Oral 1.  (Yes, it means what the English cognate sounds like.)  Actually, the Spanish version is scheduled to be issued in June, and it's called Fijación Oral 1 because the English version scheduled for November release is to be called Oral Fixation 2.  (See, I told you it was what it sounded like.)

She explains the title in Freudian-sounding terms:

La etapa a la que los seres humanos estamos oralmente fijados es la primera etapa de nuestra vida, la más primaria, la más instintiva, la más animal. Creo que sigo en esa etapa, la más animal, sobre todo en este momento, que me siento más en contacto conmigo misma, con el ser animal que hay dentro de mí con la mujer más salvaje y más  primaria, la universal, la que somos todas. Con esa que cada vez estoy conociendo más.

The English version at her Web site is:

The stage at which human beings are the most orally fixated is the first stage of our lives, which is the most elementary, the most instinctive, and the most primitive. I think I am still in that stage, especially at this moment because I feel the most in touch with that animalistic aspect within me.

That's not such a good translation, actually.  I would render it:

The stage at which human beings are orally fixated is the first stage of our life, the most basic, the most instinctive, the most animal.  I believe that I'm still in this stage, the most animal, more than anything else in this moment, that I feel most in contact with me myself, with being the animal that is inside me with the most wild and most elemental woman, the universal, that we all are. With this that I am knowing better and better.

Whether it's the English translated from the Spanish or vice versa, one of those translations on the Web site seriously sucks.  I'm suspecting it's the English version that has the problem.

Now, I'm happy to hear Shakira talk sexy.  You won't hear me complain about that.  But good grief!  There's a big difference between, "I believe that I'm still in this stage, ... with being the animal that is inside me with the most wild and most elemental woman, the universal, that we all are," and, "I feel the most in touch with that animalistic aspect within me."  That bit about "la universal, la que somos todas" (the universal that we all are, or even the universal, that which we all are) pretty much makes the difference between a mystical/philosophical thought and a throwaway porno line.  You could even translate that as "the universal feminine that we all are."

Also, "primitive" in the context is not a good translation of "primaria."  If she had meant "primitive" she most likely would have use "primitivo."  Did they have one of the roadies do the translation?  The "animalistic aspect within me"?  I think it's safe to assume that the Spanish version better represents what  Shakira wanted to say.

Proceeding to the music, the first cut released from Fijación Oral 1 is called "La Tortura," a duet with Alejandro Sanz.  Although the Web site doesn't list the writers, she normally writes her own songs, sometimes with a co-writer.  The Web site makes it sound like she had a hand in writing all of the cuts on the new album.  She retains an unusual amount of creative control over her work.  And since she has a good sense of what to do, so far it's come out sounding great.  I have to confess I haven't heard her first two albums from her teen years.  But if you want to shell out a few hundred dollars on eBay for the now-collectable vinyl, you might be able to get them.

The Web site has brief cuts from "La Tortura."  AOL has an AOL-only feature of the full song at  AOL Latino Música: Shakira.  The song is a dialogue between a spurned woman and her former lover who is begging to come back to her.  Not the first time she's used this theme.

Her lyrics are reliably good.  Before I quote some of "La Tortura," I should mention that I'm relying on my own English translation of the Spanish here.  The English lyrics at the Web site are close but they don't follow the Spanish exactly.  Also, even some of the Spanish lyrics seem to be odd transcriptions from the sung version.  For instance, in the first verse "Tan poco" almost certainly should be "Tampoco."  A later verse begins "No te bajes" in the Spanish version, but the English version uses "don't you go," which would mean the Spanish should be "No te vajes."  I actually think "No be bajes" works better in this case.  There are also a few other small glitches along those lines. 

Anyway, the female character in the duet laments:

Ah, love, it hurts me so much
Hurts me so much
That your'e leaving without saying where
Ah, love, it was a torture to lose you

The man, returning from a subsequent love gone bad, pleads:

I know that I wasn't a saint
But love can be repaired ...

Only from errors do we learn
And today I know my heart is yours

But she's not buying it.  And she replies in a biblical vein:

Man does not live by bread alone
And I don't live by excuses

This is one place where I have to admire the subtlety of the lyrics.  (For you heathen secularists and godless Europeans out there, the man-doesn't-live-by-bread-alone line is a quote from Jesus in the Gospels.)  She uses the masculine "No solo de pan vive el hombre" rather than a gender-neutral like "No vivimos solo de pan."  Which works nicely with the next line for the woman to say, you don't live by bread alone and I don't live by excuses.

She uses another Gospel reference (further note for the godless heathens: pearls before swine) in telling him and herself that she can't pretend the old romance can be made to work again.  The Spanish version is particularly good here:

No puedo pedir que el invierno perdone a un rosal
No puedo pedir a los olmos que entreguen peras
No puedo pedirle lo eterno a un simple mortal
Y andar arrojando a los cerdos miles de perlas.

I can't ask that the winter pardon a rose bush
I can't ask the elms to produce pears
I can't ask eternity for a simple mortal
And go throwing thousands of pearls before swine

I would say the woman's rejection of the man turns out to be pretty emphatic:

Better that you keep all this
To give to another dog with this bone
And that we tell each other goodbye

But the guy also gets some good parting lines.  This is where I think the "no te bajes" works better than "no te vajes":

Don't lower yourself, don't lower yourself
Listen, my dark one, look, don't go to pieces
From Monday to Friday you have my love
Leave Saturday for me, that is better
Listen, my dark one, don't punish me more
Because way out there without you I have no peace
I am only a repentant man
I am like a bird that returns to its nest

The Web site's English version of those first four lines goes:

Listen, baby, don't you go
Listen, baby, don't get angry
From Monday to Friday you have my love
Give Saturday to me and you'll be better off

"Listen, baby, don't you go"?  No, I like my version  much better.

And I definitely prefer my version of the Monday-to-Friday and Saturday bit.  It hardly even makes sense in the dialogue the way its' translated there.  In my reading of it, he's saying, "Even though you're rejecting me, I'll still think of you with regret.  I only hope I can have some moments of peace."

Now, maybe my enthusiasm for the dialogue has to do with watching a lot of telenovelas lately.  Hey, La Mujer en el Espejo may not be Buffy, the Vampire Slayer.  But Lord knows it's better than, say, Lost.  Those people have been on the island for nearly a year, and no dinosaurs and no ape-people and no lost Roman civilizations have turned up yet.  What kind of stranded-on-an-island story is that?  They keep putting growly things in the bushes, but who cares?  There's not even a lousy pterodactyl, for Pete's sake!

Well, telenovelas or not, Shakira is a great singer and songwriter as far as our musical analysts here at Old Hickory's Weblog are concerned.

[04/24/05 note: Shakira's extended name is Shakira Mebarak Ripoll.]


togan14 said...

Hey, thanks alot for this translation, it really helps me understand the song better. Have you seen the video yet? It's on yahoo music and it's very hot. I love Shakira- of her music that I've heard anyways. I think she's a great role model for women on accepting yourself, taking your career into your own hands, on creativity, sexuality- the whole shebang. Again, thanks for discussing it with the language barrier challenged.

bmiller224 said...

Yes, I have seen the video, and it encourages me to think my translation on one of the unclear points, namely:

Don't lower yourself, don't lower yourself
Listen, my dark one, look, don't go to pieces

In the video, the ex-boyfriend is looking at her through his window, imagining that she's crying in sorrow for him.  Of course, we know that she's actually peeling an onion.

In the video version, the woman doesn't seem to be missing him at all, and is more angry at the rejection than heartbroken.  I think the lyrics can also be read as a dialogue where she is both angry and distressed - and he is begging her to take him back.  But I also thought the visual drama in the video was consistent with the lyrics, just a somewhat different variation. - Bruce

gyrlx said...

HI! I really liked you analysis of Shakira's new song. I'm posting a link to my LJ. I love her lyrics and feel that the english translation are often, well, craptacular at capturing what she is saying. Although, with Laundry Service, I blame it on her, cause she herself said she was trying to write in a more direct, "English" (re: Anglo) style.  

Honestly, I think Donde Esta Los Ladrones was a better album than Laundry Service.

obwon191 said...

you have some good insites in regard to Shakira's music. Moreover, everyone is entitled to their own point of view. However, i do not agree with the way you try to translate her ideas literly from her spainsh version. It seem to me that you are trying look for understand only from the words and not the ideas and mind set from which Shakira writes from. I cannot claim to know that, becuase i am not Shakira, but i lived in Colombia for a few years and the mind set you have have of Colombia or of the Colombian people (Oh and it is Colombia with two -o-s not a u Columbia) is incorrect. You are trying to analyzed them from you mind set, your point of view with out taking in to account the siners mind set orr that of her people.
Moreover, I can tell from the way you translated you merely make a literial word per word translation form SPanish to english with out understanding why it si certian saying work well in spainsh and not in English so that you may try convey the not only the word the singer/artist is use but also the mean behind the words . IT is one thing to transliterate words from one Landuage to another, but truly translate not only words but the meaning the words contain is another. That is why translating is so hard.
Nonetheless, you have a wonderfl flare to your write and in theway you express your thoughts. Ileave you only with this, in Middle Eastern cultures, the spoken word preceded the written word.  In short this is known as oral traditon, which included a love and honor keep this tradation true to when it was first spoken and passed down, fidelatity to the spoken word. What do you think thishas to do with th title of shakira' new cd? She gave some ideas regading thisvery topic in aninterview. Thank for your time!!!!!

haloink616 said...

I came across this entry by Googling something about Shakira, so I don't know anything about you. I am also aware that this entry's nearly a year old, so I don't even know if you'll remember this...

Anyway, my first question- are you a native Spanish speaker? Or did you just study it? The answer to that will greatly change my opinion of the contents in this page.

I'm a native speaker, and though it has been a long time since I've held a conversation in Spanish with someone other than my family, I still think my usage and comprehension for the language is still good.

In the line "No te bajes/vajes" if the latter spelling is applied, I think it can be looked at as "No the 'vajes" in which the last word can be seen as a slang for "navajes" which would mean "to cut with a razor;" so perhaps he thinks that she's too lost without him? Of course, the source for where we got the lyrics will greatly influence our translations, as well as our style of translation. I am quite literal when I do so, sometimes varying in word usage, and I don't know about you.

In anycase, I've gone on too much about this. Oh, and I reinforce the first comment-- it is "Colombia" and "Colombian."