El Emigrante, by Juanito Valderrama

After a few posts about French, American, or Chinese artists, it's time to write about some Spanish singers. And we will take the time machine to go back to a grayer time, and talk about a singer from Jaen (the region where this writer is from). If at this point you were expecting Karina, sorry, today is the time for Juanito Valderrama.

This song has the same title as a 1960 movie starring this same singer, but it was originally in 1949 as a tribute to the millions of Spaniards that had to emigrate and leave the country because of the Spanish Civil War (1936-39).

He was a well-known and established artist by then. He debuted at a young age at Madrid's Cine Metropolitano in 1935, and his fame had grown vastly as a "war artist", performing for the troops and the injured. And the following decades only brought more songs and roles in movies, he was one of Spain's most recognizable faces.

Juanito Valderrama was active for over 70 years, and during that time, he sang along with the best flamenco singers and guitar players, acted in half a dozen movies, and recorded over 700 songs... A prolific life that continues in the family with his son, Juan Antonio, a popular singer.

Most of his songs are cantes y coplas (really popular style during the mid-20th century in Spain), of which El Emigrante was the most successful one, but not the only one: La Primera Comunión, El Rey de la Carretera, or El Cristo de los Faroles were great hits in Spain and Latin America.

Although El Emigrante brings melancholy and memories (another song with a similar effect is Volver by Carlos Gardel), the first few verses are almost comical:

"I have to make a rosary
out of your ivory teeth,
so I can kiss them
when I'm not close to you."

Yes, it is supposed to be a romantic statement, but the imagery in it may not be the most appropriate one... as it is not probable that his girlfriend would be waiting for him after he pulled all her teeth to make a beautiful rosary.

Article published on October 31, 2012.