I “discovered” “Viva Tirado” back around 1990, when Kid Frost sampled/interpolated parts of it for “La Raza” but I didn’t realize the greater genealogy of the song until later in the decade when one of my academic mentors, Josh Kun, put me up on how Frost was flipping an El Chicano song that, in turn, was based on a Gerald Wilson original.
The connection planted a tenacious seed in my head and for the dozen years after that, I slowly began to flesh out the story behind what I call the song’s “multiple iterations” and specifically, how “Viva Tirado” is at the center of a rather remarkable, multi-generational conversation between L.A.’s Black and Brown communities. After all, here’s a song, originally written by a Black composer in honor of a Mexican bullfighter, covered by a Chicano band steeped in Black R&B and jazz, then sampled by the first major Chicano rap artist. It seems no matter where the song goes, it’s always a bridge between cultures; this becomes even more true once “Viva Tirado” goes international and falls into the hands of everyone from Augustus Pablo to Nico Gomez to Los Mozambiques.
I finally had the chance a few years ago to collect these ideas into an academic essay that just came out in the Journal of Popular Music Studies. They actually use my essay as the “free” offering from this month’s issue and for the occasion, I prepared a mini-mega-mix of “Viva Tirado” versions to the site.
You can find it all here. It really is an astounding story for those who don’t know it and I feel like I wrote my essay with scholarly rigor but hopefully still accessible enough for the “lay person” to read. The mix of songs includes some of my personal favorite versions of “Viva Tirado” though there were many versions I could have included but didn’t.
Also, here’s some rare 1971 footage of El Chicano performing the song live, during the era where they had taken the song to the top of multiple charts.