"La Cucaracha" (Spanish: "The Cockroach") is a traditional Spanish folk corrido that became popular in Mexico during the Mexican Revolution.
The song consists of verse-and-refrain (strophe-antistrophe) pairs, with each half of each pair consisting of four lines featuring an ABCB rhyme scheme.
The song's earliest lyrics, from which its name is derived, concern a cockroach that has lost one of its six legs and is struggling to walk with the remaining five. The cockroach's uneven, five-legged gait is imitated by the song's original 5/4 meter, formed by removing one upbeat (corresponding to the missing sixth leg) from the second half of a 6/4 measure:
La cu-ca- | ra-cha, la cu-ca-ra-cha | ya no pue-de ca-mi-nar por-que no | tie-ne, por-que le fal-ta | u-na pa-ta de a-tras.
("The cockroach, the cockroach / can no longer walk / because he doesn't have, because he lacks / a hind leg"; these lyrics form the basis for the refrain of most later versions. Syllables having primary stress are in boldface; syllables having secondary stress are in roman type; unstressed syllables are in italics. Measure divisions are independent of text line breaks and are indicated by vertical barlines; note that the refrain begins with an anacrusis/"pickup.")
Many later versions of the song, especially those whose lyrics do not mention the cockroach's missing leg(s), extend the last syllable of each line to fit the more familiar 6/4 meter.
The song's verses fit a traditional melody separate from that of the refrain but sharing the refrain's meter (either 5/4 or 6/4 as discussed above). In other respects, they are highly variable, usually providing satirical commentary on contemporary political or social problems or disputes.
The origins of "La Cucaracha" are obscure; because the refrain's lyrics make no explicit reference to historical events, it is difficult if not impossible to date. Because verses are improvised according to the needs of the moment, however, they often enable a rough estimate of their age by mentioning contemporary social or political conditions (thus narrowing a version's possible time of origin to periods in which those conditions prevailed) and/or referring to specific current or past events (thus setting a maximum boundary for a version's age).
There exist several early (pre-Revolution) sets of lyrics referring to historical events.
Francisco Rodríguez Marín records in his book Cantos Populares Españoles several verses dealing with the Reconquista, which was completed in 1492 when the Moors surrendered the Alhambra to Spain.
|La cucaracha, la cucaracha,||The cockroach, the cockroach,|
|ya no puede caminar||can't walk anymore|
|porque no tiene, porque le falta||because it doesn't have, because it's lacking|
|marihuana que fumar.||marijuana to smoke.|
|Ya murió la cucaracha||The cockroach just died|
|ya la llevan a enterrar||now they take her to be buried|
|entre cuatro zopilotes||among four buzzards|
|y un ratón de sacristán.||and a mouse as the sexton.|