The 10 Greatest Songs about Tamales EVER
Fans of rap genius Tyler the Creator must've scratched their head in confusion when he released a music video this month for his equally head-scratching song "Tamale." What exactly could a hip-hop head possibly know about this quintessential Latin American meal, and why would he craft a song based on it, even if it has little to do with the subject at hand?
The beautiful photos of Gabbi's Mexican Kitchen deserve their own corrido
But, in reality, Tyler was following in the grand tradition of a curious genre of American music: tamale songs. Since the early 1900s, when tamales sold by men or packed in a can first became popular across the United States (a topic I cover in-depth in my book), tunes praising the toothsome treat, the people who sell it, or beautiful ladies deemed "hot tamales" have been penned by Dixieland jazz groups, by hip-hop artists, by bluesmen, ragtimers, zydeco kings, alt-rock gods and more--but none, unfortunately, by the Flying Burrito Brothers. There are now songs devoted to tacos, to tequila, and many other Mexican foodstuffs, but no comida has more songs penned to it in American letters, a testament to the staying power of masa wrapped in a husk.
Most tamale tracks been lost to the ravages of time, but there's nevertheless enough to warrant this fabulous listicle. Tellingly, I've counted more songs praising tamales written in English than I do in Spanish, proving again that Americans love Mexican food even more than Mexicans--but there are a couple of great Spanish-language songs about tamales, too. Without further ado, música, maestro!
10. "El Tamalero"
Charming song that's played on a loop on La Rockola 96.7, this Oscar Padilla composition isn't so much about tamales per se as the tamalero working the restaurant. The lyrics are straightforward, as Padilla takes on the persona of the tamalero by announcing everything he's selling--chocolates, cigarettes, calling cards, memorabilia for the Chivas and Club América soccer squads to God-knows-what-else in a passage that's breathless not just for the singer but also the accordion.
9. "The Hot Tamale Man"
You wanna get old school? This song by legendary ragtime singer Arthur Collins was recorded in 1909--over a century ago! The music sheet for this song has an African-American on the cover, as they were the predominant tamale men everywhere in the United States except the Southwest during that time. Collins affects the intonations of a tamale man, although thankfully not as stereotypical as in some of his "coon" songs for which he remains notorious. How did African-Americans get to sell tamales in the first place? All in my book!
8. "De Chivo los Tamales"
Me hicieron de chivo los tamales is a Mexican dicho (aphorism) that literally translates as "They made me goat tamales" but which means someone duped you--or, more often, someone cheated on you. This is one of the few times tamales are used in a negative sense in la canción mexicana, which only shows again how much gabachos truly appreciate Mexican food--they would never insult tamales like that!