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Latin roots

20 September 2009



¡Viva La Honduras! ¡Viva La España! ¡Viva La México! Beginning September 15 we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. It was on that date in 1821 that five Latin American countries—Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua—declared their independence. Last week fans of David Archuleta had that Latin spirit going on big time, culminating in David’s stunning performance at the ALMA Awards Friday night.

Last year I heard the lovely song, “Contigo en la Distancia,” for the first time when I watched the YouTube video of him singing it as a young boy. His soulful voice gave me goosebumps; the thought occurred to me that, although “Contigo” is a love song, I could sing some of the lyrics to David. For example, the English translation of these lines:

there is no time in a day
that i can be apart from you
the world seems different
when you’re not next to me

there is no beautiful melody
in which you are not part of
I wouldn’t want to listen to it
if you don’t listen too

Since I first heard David’s glorious voice in January 2008, hardly a day has passed that I haven’t heard it. I have been introduced to songs, such as “Contigo,” that I had not heard before. Soon we will have his debut Christmas album, Christmas from the Heart. On the track list we see familiar carols such as “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” There are songs with French roots: “O! Holy Night” and “Pat a Pan.” Songs adapted from Latin text include “Ave Maria,” “The First Noel,” and “Angels We have Heard on High.” And then there’s a song entitled “Riu, Riu, Chiu,” which drew my interest since I had never heard of it. I discovered that “Riu, riu, chiu” was written in the so-called villancico style, which was a popular style in post-Renaissance Spain and Portugal.

Then to my surprise and delight, I found that the Monkees sang a beautiful a cappella version of “Riu, Riu, Chiu” on Christmas Day 1967. And then I was even more delighted and intrigued when I read the lyrics in both Spanish and English. I can hardly wait to hear what David has done with this material. I hope we are going to hear more Spanish! And perhaps a little French and Latin too.

Spanish text


Riu riu chiu, la guarda ribera;
Dios guardo el lobo de nuestra cordera,
Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera.
El lobo rabioso la quiso morder,
Mas Dios poderoso la supo defender;
Quisola hazer que no pudiese pecar,
Ni aun original esta Virgen no tuviera.
Este qu’es nacido es el gran monarca,
Christo patriarca, de carne vestido;
hanos redimido con se hacer chiquito,
a un qu’era infinito, finito se hiziera.
Muchas profecias lo han profetizado,
Ya un nuestros dias lo hemos al consado
Adios humanado vemos en el suelo,
Yal hombre nelcielo porquel le quistera.
Yo vi mil garzones que andaban cantando,
por aquí volando, haciendo mil sones,
diciendo a gascones: “Gloria sea en el cielo
y paz en el suelo”, pues de sus nasciera.
Este viene a dar a los muertos vida
y viene a reparar de todos la caída;
es la luz del día aqueste mozuelo;
este es el cordero que San Juan dixera.
Mira bien queos quadre que ansina lo oyera,
Que Dios no pudiera hacer la mas que madre,
El quera su padre hoy della nascio
Y el que la drio su hijo so dixera.
Pues que ya tenemos lo que deseamos,
todos juntos vamos, presentes llevemos;
todos le daremos muestra voluntad,
pues a se igualar con el hombre viniera.

English translation


Riu, riu, chiu1
The river bank protects it,
As God kept the wolf from our lamb
The rabid wolf tried to bite her
But God Almighty knew how to defend her
He wished to create her impervious to sin
Nor was this maid to embody original sin
He who’s now begotten is our mighty Monarch
Christ, our Holy Father, in human flesh embodied
He has brought atonement by being born so humble
Though He is immortal, as mortal was created
The newborn child is the mightiest monarch,
Christ patriarchal invested with flesh.
He made himself small and so redeemed us:
He who was infinite became finite.
Many prophecies told of his coming,
And now in our days have we seen them fulfilled.
God became man, on earth we behold him,
And see man in heaven because he so willed.
A thousand singing herons I saw passing,
Flying overhead, sounding a thousand voices,
Exulting, “Glory be in the heavens,
And peace on Earth, for Jesus has been born.”
He comes to give life to the dead,
He comes to redeem the fall of man;
This child is the light of day,
He is the very lamb Saint John prophesied.
Now we have gotten what we were all desiring,
Go we together to bear him gifts:
Let each give his will to the God who was willing
To come down to Earth man’s equal to be.

1 nightingale’s sounds

Title: Riu, riu, chiu
Composer: Mateo Flecha el Viejo
Genre: Sacred, Villancico
Language: Spanish
Published: Cancionero de Upsala, 1556

Source: ChoralWiki

More information about Flecha

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 3cota | 1 | 21st September 2009 at 8:38 am |

    David just proves every single day that he is doing what he was born to do! And so well rounded. I did not remember that David sang this song when he was a young boy. His father once said that we had not seen anything yet… meaning that David still had so much more. Almost every time I hear from David he has done something ‘so much more’. I say a prayer for him nightly that he will continue with what he loves to do and does so well.

  • PeMuro (unregistered) | 4th October 2009 at 5:03 am |

    Riu riu chiu is a very rhythmic carol; the English translation seems to translate lobo as lamb (Lady) and a couple of lines below as wolf. But both come from Latin lupus wolf. But cordera lamb would be agna (f. of agnus) in Latin, what is the probable Latin root of cordera (portuguese cordela) . I would understand the lyrics of RiuRiuChiu better if I had a Latin translation. guardo is not of Latin origin but Altfränkish.


  • minja | 2 | 4th October 2009 at 11:17 am |

    hey PeMuro, thanks very much for this information. The Spanish translation of “Riu Riu Chiu” is not accurate: ‘lamb’ is ‘cordero’, not ‘cordera’ in Spanish; in Portuguese, ‘cordeiro’. The phrase “Dios guardo el lobo de neustra cordera” would be translated “God keeps our lamb from (de) the wolf.” I found a Portuguese translation of ‘guardo’ as ‘I keep’, so the inflection is not correct in “Dios guardo”. It should be “Dios guarde”, “God keeps.” And the word ‘neustra’ is wrong, should be ‘nuestro’. I didn’t know about the word ‘guardo’ being an ‘Altfränkish’, or Old Frankish, word. So the sentence should be, “Dios guarde el lobo de nuestro cordero.” Do you agree?

  • PeMuro (unregistered) | 5th October 2009 at 5:40 am |

    RiuRiuChiu is in OSp (OldSpanisch ~1600). Cordera is the f. (for Our Lady) of cordero m. lamb (for Christ), so in G (German) we could imitate it as Lämmin f. vs. Lamm m. The -o of guard-o might be the 3.sg.past; I am surer of -a in the 1st line ‘la guarda ribera’ being the f.sg.
    going back to francique *wardon watch, watchtour G Warte, Wacht-turm. Ribera < L ripa-ria bank (of a river, not river) so together: G Uferbefestigung E fotification of the (river-) bank.