THE STORY BEHIND “VIVA TIRADO”


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. Here’s another post that compiles many of those versions.

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.

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. 

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.

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12 thoughts on “THE STORY BEHIND “VIVA TIRADO””

  1. Loved the article! Big up Chicano Power! You should write a post about Pachuco they are one of my favorites especially because the two brothers are from my home town, Santa Fe! Blackalicious know

  2. Congrats on the publication.

    I came to Viva Tirado through Kid Frost like you and didn’t learn more about its history until I took a Chicano Studies class on popular music. I was also lucky enough to take an intro to jazz history class with Gerald Wilson.

  3. Thanks for highlighting the IASPM article. I read “Tirado” in the latest issue, loved it, and had not yet gone searching out the music–Wiley (and you) made it easy. I’ve been inspired by the article because of its readability while still having rigor. It makes my writing easier. Thanks!

  4. Oh man, I hope you don’t mind but I ripped some words from your article on Viva Tirado for a post on my web site. If you go to http://www.Hobbystreetstudios.com, and link to the Audio page, you can hear a rendition of Viva Tirado done here at our studio. Our band loves that song and did it with some amazing guitar work by Martins Salinas. I thought you might like it, and I gave you credit fro sharing those words. I will take your words off if you want just say so, and thanks again! Cheers!

  5. I was a 16 yrs. old when one day at the San Fernando park there was this group of guys and a girl playing music, caught my attention sat there listening them play. Days later I found out it was el Chicano, ever since then I fell in love with their music, now my 4 kids keep enjoying it too.

  6. First time I heard this song was in the 70s, By El Chicano…I had just completed two tours in Viet Nam and immediately fell head over heals every time I heard it on the radio..How I miss those days!!!

  7. Thank you for the information on Viva Tirado. I was home on leave from Vietnam in May of 1970 when I first heard Viva Tirado and I can still remember the flash of pride I experienced on hearing the title of the band, Ël Chicano.” It was the joy of being recognized. You are absolutely spot on with your comment about Chicanos raised on R&B taking a song written by an African American about a Mexican bullfighter and make it a hit for generations…thanks

  8. F.Y.I THE SONG WAS NOT WRITTEN BY EL CHICANO, IT WAS WRITTEN BY THE FAMOUS JAZZ CONDUCTOR AND MUSICIAN GERALD WILSON, ON THE ALBUM “MOMENT OF TRUTH”. AT THE SAME TIME I WAS IN HIGH SCHOOL WHEN EL CHICANO’S VERSION CAME OUT AND WAS A HUGE HIT AMONGST US R&B FANS!

  9. In the 70s, I thought this was just a (cool) Fifth Dimension album track. Then in the 80s, I thought that The Police might have been hip to it to influence their tune “Wrapped Around Your Finger”. Yesterday, I found it by a 60s psych band called ‘The Duke Of Burlington’, which prompted me to finally research the long history of this great not-so-obscure song.

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