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SHEILAH KAST, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Sheilah Kast.

Hurricane Katrina's floodwaters drowned untold numbers of people, flooded the city of New Orleans and swamped countless smaller communities along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico. A long musical tradition links water and tragedy, and the disaster of Katrina will doubtless inspire many mournful ballads. In this week's What in a Song?, our occasional series from the Western Folklife Center about one song and its story, we hear a centuries-old legend of water and death that has evolved into one of Latin America's most popular folk songs.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. CIPRIANO VIGIL (Musician and Composer): My name is Cipriano Vigil. I'm from northern New Mexico in a little community called El Rito.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. VIGIL: I'm a musician and a composer; I write a lot of music. But I emphasize mostly my music on the traditional folklore of northern New Mexico.

(Soundbite of "La Llorona")

Mr. VIGIL: (Singing in Spanish)

`I am the dark one, but I am very loveable. I am like the green chile; hot, but delicious.'

(Soundbite of "La Llorona")

Mr. VIGIL: (Singing in Spanish)

There's so many versions all over the world, but the New Mexico version is where there's young woman who was married to this handsome young man, they had two children and then when the children are probably about six, seven years old, the husband left the woman for another woman. And then the mother blamed her children for the--they were the cause of the husband leaving her, so she went and threw them in the Rio Grande.

(Soundbite of "La Llorona")

Mr. VIGIL: (Singing in Spanish)

After she threw them, she had a change of heart, but it was too late.

(Soundbite of "La Llorona")

Mr. VIGIL: (Singing in Spanish)

The myth or the legend is that you can still hear her crying, running up and down the Rio Grande looking for her children. And the myth has become now where there's a body of water, you'll find La Llorona there.

(Soundbite of "La Llorona")

Mr. VIGIL: (Singing in Spanish)

Children are taught at a very young age about the myth of La Llorona, and when I had a family, I started using it, the same thing. Every time we would go camping, we would go by the river and I would tell the kids, `You never want to go out by yourself in the dark by the river because La Llorona will get you.'

(Soundbite of "La Llorona")

Mr. VIGIL: (Singing in Spanish)

When I'm singing the song, I feel like I'm right there. I'm actually seeing the whole actions of this lady throwing her children in the river. I can see her expressions in the face. I can, in a sense, feel the longing that this lady had after she did this tragic thing with her children, you know, for something that love brought about.

(Soundbite of "La Llorona")

KAST: What's in a Song is produced by Hal Cannon and Taki Telonidis of the Western Folklife Center.

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