The informant, EM, grew up in the San Miguel neighborhood of San Salvador, El Savador. Growing up, he had a great interest in music and learned to play many instruments, as well as singing in a choir. Here he fondly remembers a folk song that is a great source of pride in his country that he learned growing up:
The song is called “El Carbonero”. This is considered by Salvadorans as almost a second national anthem. It translates to “The Coal Merchant”, and it tells the story of this guy who comes down from the mountains to sell coal.
This song is pretty much performed everywhere for different events, like Independence Day, or any cultural event where kids from schools- starting in elementary school all the way up to high school- whenever they want to perform something that represents who you are as a Salvadoran. Basically everyone would know the lyrics and know how to dance the song. In that sense it’s pretty popular and people know it. If a famous singer comes to perform in El Salvador- let’s say…Shakira! – or someone like that, then they would include “El Carbonero” as part of their set and the audience will go crazy. Artist try all kinds of different versions. It’s pretty much done by every foreign performer who comes.
From an ideological point of view, the lyrics of the song- it’s letting you know that, this is what we do, and we work hard. You know, being a coal merchant is kind of a messy, dirty job. All the people who dedicate themselves to it- even their faces are black, and their hands…everything is black from the coal. It also tells you something about the country and its origins. There’s an analogy in the song- the coal is something that el Carbonero is bringing to you that will light up your house and keep you warm. Coal has a positive connotation here since its good for you family and good for your home, and you identify with the hard working people.
The song begins with the verse
“soy carbonero que vengo
de las cumbres si señor
con mi carboncito negro
que vierte lumbre de amor.”
Which translates to
“I am a coal merchant who comes
fromthe high places, yes sir,
with my black coal
that turns to lights of love.”
My thoughts: Folk songs can often be seen as sources of nationalistic pride, as seen in the documentary Whose Song Is This? The song, El Carbonero, reflects that Salvadorans are proud of the working class- the country has a long history of economic hardship and poverty, so the working class is celebrated as opposed to the wealthy. The song also takes pride in the rich natural resources of the country, celebrating the coal that is brought down from the mountains. Even though these things may not seem glamorous to outsiders, they are symbolic of the endurance of the country’s people through a turbulent history. The informant also mentions how folk songs evolve over time and may be interpreted by established artists and transformed to different genres for popular consumption.