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Plena and censorship in the early 1900s

Plena Music

Plena is one of Puerto Rico’s native music rhythms. It is the music of southern, coastal Puerto Rico, especially around the city of Ponce. First appearing around the end of the 19th century, plena lyrics concentrate on providing information about contemporary events. It became “el periodico cantao” (the sung newspaper). 

“El Obispo” Scandal

One of the most popular plena songs is “El Obispo” (or “The Bishop”), which narrates the story of a Spanish bishop that came to Ponce.  The song was written in the early 1900s. Nowadays, most of the Puerto Ricans know a few lines of this song that just talks about a bishop from Rome, but we have collectively forgotten the complete lyrics and purpose of this plena.

“El Obispo” was really a critic to the excesses of this bishop. The choir invites us to listen and watch controversial information about a public character, whom is supposed to be respectable but happens to be a moral fraud.  Instead of maintaining the demanding morality of his office, the bishop has the same fleshly weaknesses as any womanizing and partying neighbor. The song is narrated from the point of view of an innocent, starstruck child. Satirizing the cleric’s unpriestly appearance and behavior, “El Obispo” caused a huge scandal and was officially banned. The author of this song is unknown and many versions exist.

In what follows, the lyrics of one of these versions in Spanish, then in English.

El Obispo Lyrics in Spanish

Mamita, mira el obispo,
el obispo llegó de Roma
Mamita, ti tu lo vieras,
que cosa linda, qué cosa mona!

Dien que no bebe ron,
pero lo bebe por cuarterolas.
Mamita, si tú lo vieras,
que cosa linda, que cosa mona!

El obispo juega topos,
se emborracha y se enamora.
Mamita, si tú lo vieras,
que cosa linda, que cosa mona!

Tiene los dientes de oro,
y en los de abajo tiene coronas.
Mamita, si tú lo vieras,
que cosa linda, que cosa mona!

Y dicen las hermanitas
del Sagrado Corazón:
Muchachas tengan cuidado,
que ese obispo es un león.

El obispo se emborracha,
juega topos y se enamora.
Mamita, si tú lo vieras,
que cosa linda, que cosa mona!

El Obispo Lyrics in English

Mommy, look at the Bishop,
the bishop arrived from Rome.
Mommy, if you could see him,
how pretty, how cute!

They say he doesn’t drink rum,
but he drinks it by the quarter-cask.
Mommy, if you could see him,
how pretty, how cute!

The bishop shoots crap,
he gets drunk and he chases women.
Mommy, if you could see him,
how pretty, how cute!

He has gold teeth,
and the bottom ones have crowns.
Mommy, if you could see him,
how pretty, how cute!

And thus say the sisters
from Sacred Heart:
Girls, be careful,
because that bishop is a lion.

The bishop gets drunk,
he shoots crap and he chases women.
Mommy, if you could see him,
how pretty, how cute!

References

My Music is My Flag: Puerto Rican Musicians and Their New York Communities

Bembeteos del Obispo

© 2014 – 2017, prismusic. All rights reserved.

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