We welcomed the complicated noughties properly in October 2002.
You will probably remember Aserejé by Spanish sisters Las Ketchup as one of those odd novelty records that people hear on holiday and then purchase on their return. And so it was in 2002 when the Spanglish version (rebranded as The Ketchup Song) hit no. 1 around the world.
Aserejé arrived at the tail-end of Latin fever that launched the English-language careers of rather durable popsters such as Enrique Iglesias, Ricky Martin and Shakira. Unlike these forward-looking acts whose music was a successful blend of globalised power pop, Aserejé was a faintly ridiculous cheesy throwback with comedy dancing and apparently nonsensical lyrics. More Macarena than Bailamos, more Y Viva España than Livin’ La Vida Loca.
Let’s start with the name: The Ketchup Song by Las Ketchup. The three sisters (a fourth joined later when they represented Spain in the Eurovision) are the daughters of highly-regarded flamenco guitarist, José Fernández Torres, or ‘Tomatito‘ as he was better known. There’s Las Ketchup at least. Cute.
But what of ‘Aserejé’? It’s not a Spanish word; it’s not a word at all, so no doubt it made sense for Sony to rebrand it as ‘The Ketchup Song’ and introduce some English bits to make it a little easier for Anglophones to get their tongues around. But what people might not know is that the chorus, the ‘nonsense’ part may be an example of a mondegreen, or a new interpretation of a misheard lyric.
The track is ostensibly about a young chap called Diego who is something of a dude (‘afro-gipsy’) who enters a club at midnight. When the DJ spots him, he puts on Diego’s signature track which is reprised in the memorable, if seemingly nonsensical, refrain:
Aserejè ja de jè de jebe tu de jebere seibiunouva,
majavi an de bugui an de buididipi
Diego’s favorite track appears to be Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang, one of the first hip hop tracks and one that was pivotal in popularising the genre.
Aserejé was originally credited to Manuel Ruiz, but is now also credited to Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards, whose track Good Times was appropriated by the Sugarhill Gang for their track. While sampling created legal nightmares on a much larger scale later, here was one of the first instances of copyright infringement in hip hop being pursued. Rodgers and Edwards threatened legal action and were credited as writers on the track. Grandmaster Caz who actually wrote (but did not perform) the lyrics was never credited. It’s not clear at what point they were also credited as writers on Aserejé, but they are certainly there now (how come they never chased Queen?)
Here’s the opening verse of Rapper’s Delight paired with Aserejé.
I said a hip hop, the hippie, the hippie Aserejé ja de jé de jebe do the hip hip hop, a you don’t stop tu de jebere sebiunouva the rockin’ to the bang bang boogie say up jumped the boogie majabi an de bugui to the rhythm of the boogie, the beat an de buididipí
So, what have we learned? A track put together from the emerging hip hop trend in late 70s New York towards African-American youth rhyming over pre-existing tracks such as Good Times set in motion a chain of events that highlight the tension between copyright and creativity, become one of the prevalent musical genres worldwide, and later inspire some Spanish sisters to get countless drunken holidaymakers to learn the Ketchup dance while attempting to sing along to a Spanish speakers attempt to interpret what a rastafarian gipsy is attempting to sing, while Nile Rodgers’ royalties go stratospheric.
And we drunken holidaymakers were delightfully oblivious to the whole headache-inducing intertexuality of it all.
Can’t resist! Have a listen to this elderly guest in 1998’s The Wedding Singer.