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This story begins with the Muñoz sisters: Lucía, Lola, Pilar and (later) Rocío. The daughters of Spanish flamenco guitarist El Tomate ('The Tomato'), they formed a girl group and called themselves Las Ketchup, a name that intrigued producer Manuel Ruiz “Queco” enough to write them a song and eventually produce and release their debut album Hijas del Tomate ('Daughters of the Tomato') in 2002.

And what a song it was.

As “The Ketchup Song”, “Aserejé” topped the charts in 27 countries, spawned a dance routine and at least one parody (satirist Elmar Brandt spoofed German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s economic policies in “The Tax Song”) and briefly displaced that other inescapable Spanish pop sensation: Los del Río’s “Macarena”. Six-year-old me loved it. 22-year-old me, then learning Spanish during a semester in Valencia, still loved it but couldn’t figure out what the chorus (where the title occurs) meant.

The rest of the lyrics had the answer. “Aserejé” follows a man-about-town (probably the average Berklee student abroad in Valencia) who gets high, stumbles upon a DJ, and asks for his favourite song – only he can’t get the words right:

“Aserejé ja de je De jebe tu de jebere sebiunouva Majabi an de bugui an de buididipí”

If that sounds like gibberish, that’s because it is. However, shortly after the song’s release, someone with a lot of free time noticed that 'a se hereje' was Spanish for 'to be heretic', and soon rumour had it that the song was not about ketchup (which it wasn't anyway) but about Satan, or at least a Satanist (the lyrics support such an interpretation).

The group’s explanation, however, was even stranger. It was also strangely inevitable. The protagonist’s favourite song is actually the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”:

“I said a hip hop, The hippie to the hippie The hip hip a hop, and you don't stop, a rock it To the bang bang boogie, say up jump the boogie, To the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.”

The music similarly combines, and in the process up-ends, a number of clichés. The arrangement is an inspired cocktail of reggaeton and surf rock; the verse opens with the lament bass in the melody and not in the bass itself as almost all other examples seem to; the chorus uses the mislabeled “Andalusian cadence” (unsurprising, given the musicians’ flamenco roots). Both are bridged by the flat-six minor chord (which Berklee insists doesn’t exist), something that always got my attention as a child who knew nothing about music theory – speaking of which, the chorus ends with a textbook-perfect tritone resolution. And while the song itself isn’t rap, most of its lyrics are squeezed into a motoric rhythm: “no room for a soul”, as the pre-chorus has it.

I suspect the song is also about whoever did the artwork.

Though they still perform regularly, Las Ketchup haven't released any new music since 2006's terrific "Bloody Mary", and “Aserejé” has met the fate of most one-hit wonders and 'novelty songs': it is dismissed as embarrassing kitsch by those who remember it. Yet it remains a potent example of 'superficial', 'manufactured' music that is much more than it seems to be: critic Andy Thomas ended his contemporaneous review of the song in Drowned in Sound by pronouncing: “It's not smart, it's not clever, and it's not going to get a single positive review outside of the teeny bop press. Except here because it's ace.”


“Aserejé (The Ketchup Song)"

Look what’s coming ‘Round the corner It’s Diego dancing With the moon in his pupils And a sea-blue suit And traces of contraband

And where there’s no room for a soul He goes to work Possessed by the ragatanga rhythm And the DJ who knows him Plays the midnight hymn:

Diego’s favourite song And he dances, and he enjoys it, and he sings:

“Aserejé ja de je De jebe tu de jebere sebiunouva Majabi an de bugui an de buididipí”

It's not witchcraft To find everyday Wherever I walk Diego’s winning ways And his point of joy That Rastafarian gypsy

(And where there’s no room for a soul…)

('Aserejé...') x ∞ Music and words by Manuel Ruiz “Queco” Performed by Las Ketchup From their album Hijas del Tomate (2002) Transcription and attempted translation from the Spanish by Shwetant Kumar


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