Jesus as a Working Class Hero: Resignifying religion in Spanish music (three examples)

Practitioner: 

Date: 

May 13 2015

Location: 

Spain

The story of the life and death of Jesus is arguably the most ubiquitous story ever told. Translated to every language, vastly circulated, taught in schools all around the world, conservative groups –except for some exemptions, like Liberation Theology- have held monopoly of this narrative for the longest time. However, like every other narrative, it is not totally closed to resignification and oppositional and negotiated readings. At the end of the day, and according to the Bible, Jesus used to surround himself with the poor and the outcast.

One of the ways in which it is possible to present and disseminate an alternative narrative of the story of Jesus is music. In the following examples, three radically different Spanish authors and bands sing the story of Jesus as a working class child who grew up to be a revolutionary leader who claimed for social justice and freedom.

In the first example, Gloria Fuertes´ carol, sang by Paco Ibáñez, tells the story of newborn Jesus, first son of a carpenter and a doorwoman. This are the lyrics in Spanish -please note the phonetic similarity between “portal” (“stable”), “portería” (“lodge”) and “portera” (“doorwoman”), since this is what places Baby Jesus in the working class- and its translation in English:

Ya está el niño en el portal / Que nació en la portería / San José tiene taller / Y es la portera Maria / Vengan sabios y doctores / A consultarle sus dudas / El niño sabelotodo / Está esperando en la cuna / Dice que pecado es / Hablar mal de los vecinos / Y que pecado no es / Besarse por los caminos / Que se acerquen los pastores / Que me divierten un rato / Que se acerquen los humildes / Que se alejen los beatos / Que venga La Magdalena / Que venga San Agustín / Que esperen los Reyes Magos / Que les tengo que escribir.

The Baby is already in the stable / He was born in the lodge / Saint Joseph has a carpenter shop / Mary is a doorwoman / Let the wise and doctor come / To ask the Baby their questions / The know-it-all child / Is waiting in the crib / He says it is a sin / To talk behind the neighbors’ back / But that it is not a sin / To kiss on the roads / Let the shepherds come / Because they amuse me / Let the humbles come / Let the pious get away / Let Mary Magdalene come / Let Saint Augustine come / Let the Wise Men wait / I still have to write to them

In the next example, the hard rock band Extremoduro tells the story of “Jesucristo García”. García is an extremely common last name in Spain, and here it is a synonym of “man in the street”. For the sake of brevity, I will only reproduce the most relevant parts:

Nací un buen día, mi madre no era virgen / No vino el Rey, tampoco me importó / Hago milagros, convierto el agua en vino / Y resucito si me hago un canutito / Soy Evaristo, el rey de la baraja / Vivo entre rejas, antes era chapista / Los mercaderes ocuparon mi templo / Y me aplicaron ley antiterrorista / ¿Cuánto más necesito para ser Dios? / Por conocer a cuantos se marginan / Un día me vi metido en la heroína / Aun hubo más, menuda pesadilla / Crucificado a base de pastillas

I was born one day, my mother was not a virgin / The King did not come, I did not care / I perform miracles, I turn water into wine / And I resurrect if I roll a joint / I am Evaristo, the king of cards decks / I live behind bars, I used to work at a car factory / Traders occupied my temple / And arrested my under the Antiterrorist Act / What else do I need to be God? / To get to know those who are marginalized / I saw myself trapped in heroin / And there was more, what a nightmare / Crucified on pills

In the last example, the ska-punk band Ska P’s “Villancico” (1998) points at the hypocrisy and the double standards of the Catholic Church:

25, ya es Navidad, todos juntos vamos a brindar / Por Ruanda, Etiopía, en Venezuela o en la India / Hoy mueren niños, ¡feliz navidad! / Navidades de hambre y dolor / Ha nacido el hijo de Dios / El Mesías que nos guía ofrece su filosofía / Nadie entiende al hijo de Dios / [ESTRIBILLO: Mi familia comienza a cantar / En el ambiente hay felicidad / En compañía vamos a olvidar la agonía de los pueblos donde no hay Navidad / Cantemos hermanos todos juntos hacia el Vaticano / Suelta prenda, ¡coño! Que mueren niños de inanición / Un negocio millonario con la fe de los cristianos / Que utiliza a Jesús como el perpetuo salvador] / Jesucristo era un tío normal / Pacifista, intelectual / Siempre al lado de los pobres, defendiendo sus valores / Siempre en contra del capital / Crucificado como un animal / Defendiendo un Ideal / El abuso de riqueza se convierte en la miseria más injusta de la Humanidad / [ESTRIBILLO] / Fue la Iglesia la que se lo montó / Y de su muerte un negocio creó / El Vaticano es un Imperio que devora con ingenio / Predicando por la caridad / 25, ya es Navidad, todos juntos vamos a brindar / Por un revolucionario que intentó cambiar el mundo / El primer hippie de la Humanidad / [ESTRIBILLO]

December 25th, it’s Christmas, let’s toast / To Rwanda, Ethiopia, to the children dying in Venezuela and India / Merry Christmas! / Christmas of hunger and pain / The Child of God was born / The Messiah that guides us and offers us his philosophy / Nobody understands the Child of God / [CHORUS: My family starts singing / There is happiness in the air / All together we are going to forget the agony of the people that cannot have Christmas / Let’s sing brothers and sisters on our way to the Vatican / Give up some money, fuck! There are kids dying of starvation / A millionaire business built on the faith of the Christians / Utilizing Jesus as the perpetual savior] / Jesus was a normal guy / A pacifist, an intellectual / Always with the poor, defending his values / Always against the capital / Crucified like an animal / Defending an ideal / The abuses of the rich become the most unjust misery of the Humankind / [CHORUS] / It was the Church who took advantage / And made profit of his death / The Vatican is a genius empires that devours us / While preaching for charity / December 25th, it’s Christmas, let’s toast / For a revolutionary who tried to change the world / The first hippy in the History of Humankind / [CHORUS]

In this three examples, the story of Jesus is re-negotiated to align with progressive values and denounce the abuses of the Church, in an example of semiotic warfare.

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