Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da: Translating Songs

In a recent post, Pablo questioned whether or not music should be considered a form of language.The textual component of music, that is, the song lyrics, is on a more superficial level of the topic: we can, without fear of being wrong, affirm that there we are effectively dealing with language. As such, the lyrics of a song become susceptible to translation.

It’s worth taking into account that in this type of translation the element of sound would be fundamental, and that the success of the translation will depend in good measure upon the adaptation of the phonetics to the melody. Nevertheless, it’s also ill advised to take this as an infallible rule, given that the talent and skill of a performer can turn a poorly done translation into something acceptable, or even preferable to a more conventional or correct one. Such is the case of the Sicilian Franco Battiato’s career in Spanish; likewise, of some of Boston musician Jonathan Richman’s albums. We’re talking about artists who are capable of producing entire albums of their own translations of their songs. Their translated versions can frequently border on absurd when read on paper, but the performers’ grace redeems them. Thus, “You Can’t Talk To The Dude,” by Richman, becomes the hilarious “No teoye” (lit., “He Doesn’t Hear You”). These are the two versions of its first verse:

You wonder why you’re feeling blue,/ And you live with a guy that you can’t talk to./ You can’t talk to the dude/ And that’s no longer in style,/ You can’t talk to the dude/ No this “no es normal.”/ You can’t talk to the dude/ And things will never be right/ Until you go.

¿Cómo te ha ido? ¿Qué tal?/ ¿Sabes por qué te sientes mal?/ ¡No te oye! !Y qué lastima es!/ Se ve tu dolor y como sufres/ No te oye y sufrirás si no te vas.

Pop culture has left us a legacy of hundreds, thousands of cases where the translation of a song turns out, for better or for worse, surprising. I’d like to encourage the bloggers to look up the version Valencian singer Enrique Castellón Vargas, the Gypsy Prince, recorded of the Beatles’ famous “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da.” Leave your opinions in the comments on this entry.


(Versión en español: https://www.trustedtranslations.com/ob-la-di-ob-la-da-la-traduccion-de-canciones-2012-04-18.html)