Tuesday, April 3, 2012

De Colores

The Mexican folk song "De Colores" is popular and has existed since the 16th century, according to David Diaz's picture book.  It has always been a favorite song of mine.  As a middle and high schooler, my parents participated in a series of Catholic retreats called Cursillo.  And as part of the Cursillo community, my sister, brother and I were...coerced into helping out with a small part of the retreat.  And during the time we were there, we sang "De Colores" over and over and over again.  Its infectious rhythms and joyous themes are part of the reason it has continued to live on in Hispanic culture.  In fact, just today I saw it on Disney Junior, as part of "A Poem is...", retold by Jessica Alba.  It is joyous and just plain fun to sing or say.  In this picture book version, David Diaz captures the joy, peace, love and harmony of the song's spirit.

From the cover illustration, it is obvious what this book is about - there are seven people on the front cover, all with their heads tipped back in song.  On each subsequent page, stanzas of the song are printed in Spanish, then translated into English.  I always appreciate the difficulty of translating music and poetry into another language - here Diaz has to be very careful to not only bring across the intent of the words, but he must also adhere to the musical structure as well.  It's very tricky, but Diaz does it beautifully.  The words flow nicely and can be sung to the same tune.

The chorus "Y por eso los grandes amores de muchos colores me gustan a mí" is translated to "And a bright love has found us with peace all around us that makes our heart sing".  That joyful feeling of peace, love and happiness is evident throughout this book.  On many pages, the human characters are floating through air.  They seem weightless - gravity doesn't apply to them.  And I mean gravity in both senses of the word.  They soar through the air, serene, content, free of burdens or worries.  These people bask in the "the bright love (that) has found us."  The sky behind them is a pure, rich cerulean blue with some hazy clouds to break up the expanse.  As the song continues, each of these human characters embraces that bright love.  This love is shown through the large hearts that begin to cover each character's torsos.  By the end of the book, the people are firmly on the ground, in a large circle, arms around each other and each with the love in their hearts visible on their shirts.

Part of the song that I love in Spanish is when the verses imitate the barnyard birds.  They have a charming onomatopoeia all their own.  For example, when the rooster sings "canta el gallo con el quirí, quirí, quirí, quirí, quirí".  The words are fun to sing and a little tongue-twisting.  What I also like about using the Spanish is that it is so different from our "cock-a-doodle-doo", yet the Spanish word still has some of the familiar rooster crow to it.  By the way, if this starts a conversation about animal sounds in different languages, the website Bzzzpeek is a fun way to compare animal sounds around the world.

Although I've talked briefly about the illustrations, I want to describe my favorite illustration to you.  It depicts the verse "de colores es el arco iris que vemos lucir/bright with colors the rainbow brings joy with the glory of spring".  Across two-thirds of the page, an enormous rainbow spreads.  The colors are more pastel than primary, with a chalky texture to them.  As is true throughout the book, texture is fundamental here.  Four figures are placed across the page.  Each one could be taken for either an angel or a beautiful flower.  Their faces are surrounded by halos of golden yellow petals alternating with different, repeating design elements on each halo.  They have green petals poking out from their shoulders, representing wings.  The angel/flowers' faces have warm, beatific smiles.  Two are clearly relishing the warmth of the sun with eyes closed.  It is a perfect embodiment of "De Colores" - with peace, bright love and happiness.  I love the joy in this particular illustration.

Even the endpapers in this story are purposefully included in Diaz's artistic vision.  The front endpaper shows the world on one side.  It is seen from the evening sky, a peaceful blue color.  Some stars twinkle and the moon slumbers with a contented smile.  It is a lovely scene.  This scene is static, though you don't notice that until you see the back endpaper.  On that page, the design is the same, with Earth on one side and the slumbering, beatific moon on the other.  But now the globe is surrounded by characters from the book (with their hearts still visible) holding hands and encircling Earth with love.  A perfect ending.
This book includes a brief page of information on the folksong and the sheet music for the song as well.  The page of information goes on to explain that there are multiple versions of this folksong.  The version that I grew up with included an İOlé! at the end of each verse.  It added some vibrancy to this joyous folksong.  I love this picture book version of De Colores, so I'll just end with an İOlé!

De Colores = Bright with colors.  Pictures by David Diaz.  Marshall Cavendish, 2008.

borrowed from Lewis & Clark Library