Tuesday, July 02, 2013
It started off, like so many things, as a joke on Facebook. During Chamorro classes last year, as part of a project each of my students got song lyrics and had to try and translate them into Chamorro. Some of them were more difficult than others. "Fly me to the Moon" was translated very quickly in just a couple of minutes. "Torn" by Natalie Imbruglia took a little bit longer. "Bohemian Rhapsody" was too daunting for my students and so we worked more slowly on it. It was an important exercise in terms of understanding the nature of translation. Bohemian Rhapsody is much easier to translate than your average rap or hip hop song, because while the lyrics move simple, they are not overly complex and don't involve too many metaphors which may be foreign or unfamiliar to a Chamorro speaker. I told my students that part of the reason they may feel that Bohemian Rhapsody would be difficult is because of their own perceptions of what Chamorro can and can't do.
What makes Bohemian Rhapsody a fun song isn't the particularity of it. When you hear the lyrics it isn't about a famous unique heroic figure in history. It isn't the story of so and so, and his particular adventure. What makes it epic, is that while it comes from a certain way of presenting a story, it is a tale that so many other cultures can take on as being connected to them.
When I hear the song now, I sing the same words as always but I imagine it in a Chamorro context. I imagine a young Chamorro man living in either the Spanish or prewar American colonial period. He gets into a fight over his beloved and either a Spanish military officer or a US Navy sailor and ends up killing his challenger. While the Spanish or American governor is hunting him down, he reaches out to the spirits of the jungle in order to give him strength and guide him. In the finale he goes and confronts the Governor and there is a big fight in which the strength that he has received from his ancestors and their spirits flow through him, giving him the victory. Or, if that is too sappy he could end up fighting valiantly but ultimately losing at the end.
In my class we translated Bohemian Rhapsody and it was a good exercise for going beyond the surface into the heart of something. Once you got past the surface of the words and how this word is this in Chamorro, and it can't fit into this line, and got to the heart and into the active part of the song, the shouting, wailing and testifying, then it all seemed so easy and appropriate.
On Facebook I noted to friends, most importantly Romeo Carlos of the Guam Blog, that the song Bohemian Rhapsody sounds fun in Chamorro. He pushed this and we've even included Berni Grajek from Guma'mami in the conversation. We'll be meeting soon to see what our options are in terms of translating "Bohemian Rhapsody" into Chamorro and then transferring it somehow onto the stage.