The Mexican Revolution Meaning of ABBA’s 'Fernando'

Updated on August 1, 2018
Mel Jay profile image

Mel is an avid music fan and collector. Mel has been writing about popular music online for over seven years.

ABBA Singing Fernando
ABBA Singing Fernando | Source

Fernando was the most successful ABBA hit single. It is one of a small group of singles that sold more than 10 million copies (including Elton John’s ‘Candle in the Wind’, and Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas’). In Australia, performing the single on live TV, the audience was larger than the number of people who watched the first moon landing. Fernando was released by ABBA in November 1975 and went ‘viral’ in 1976, selling 6 million copies that year alone. It hit #1 in thirteen nations and was the best-selling single of all time in Australia. The song was an epic victory for ABBA in Australia. Australians are the most fanatical of all ABBA fans.

Source

History of the Song 'Fernando' by ABBA

'Fernando' was the most successful single that ABBA produced. Interestingly, it was a song that came relatively early in the band's career. They had many later hits that did not sell as well as 'Fernando' did. Nonetheless, they were incredibly successful. The ABBA story is fascinating, not just because of the purity and simplicity of the design of the music, lyrics and harmonies, but also because of how their music reflected the personal lives of the band members.

Even though Fernando later appeared on the ABBA “Greatest Hits”, “Arrival” and “ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits” albums, it was not an ABBA song in the beginning.

Swedish Version

'Fernando' was originally composed for Frida’s (Anni-Frid Lyngstad) solo album, "Frida Ensam", a Swedish album title meaning "Frida Alone". Frida opens the ABBA version of the song and sings it alongside the other ABBA female vocalist Agnetha/Anna (Agnetha Faltskog).

The original Swedish-language version's lyrics were written by ABBA's manager Stig Anderson. The original lyrics are substantially different from the English-language version. In the original, the narrator tries to console the heartbroken Fernando. Fernando has lost his great love and "The sorrow can be hard to bear, but the fact that friends let us down is something we all have to cope with". The lyrics to the chorus are:

Long live love, our best friend, Fernando.
Raise your glass and propose a toast to it; to love, Fernando.
Play the melody and sing a song of happiness.
Long live love, Fernando.

English Version

The English version has totally different lyrics and a totally different story line to the Swedish version. Bjorn Ulvaeus wrote the English lyrics. According to an interview he gave in December 2008 in Australia, Ulvaeus was painting a picture of two war veterans reliving their past when they were young fighters under Emiliano Zapata in a battle of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. Apparently, Ulvaeus thought the original lyrics were too boring and sought a story line that matched the name ‘Fernando’. He said he made the story up, it is not based on anything that actually occurred during the Mexican Revolution.

Spanish Version

The song's title made it an obvious choice for ABBA's Spanish album, Gracias Por La Música. Mary McCluskey translated the lyrics into Spanish. The lyrics carry the same sentiment and meaning as the English version:

There was something in the air that night,
the stars were bright, Fernando.
They were shining there for you and me, for liberty, Fernando

For the Spanish version, this chorus was altered (slightly) to:

Something was around us
perhaps of clarity, Fernando,
that shone for us two in protection, Fernando
("Algo había alrededor quizá de claridad Fernando, que brillaba por nosotros dos en protección, Fernando".)

Source
ABBA's "Arrival" Album
ABBA's "Arrival" Album | Source

Lyrics to ABBA's 'Fernando'

Can you hear the drums Fernando
I remember long ago another starry night like this
In the firelight Fernando
You were humming to yourself and softly strumming your guitar
I could hear the distant drums
And sounds of bugle calls were coming from afar

They were closer now Fernando
Every hour every minute seemed to last eternally
I was so afraid Fernando
We were young and full of life and none of us prepared to die
And I'm not ashamed to say
The roar of guns and cannons almost made me cry

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando
Though I never thought that we could lose
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando

Now we're old and grey Fernando
And since many years I haven't seen a rifle in your hand
Can you hear the drums Fernando
Do you still recall the frightful night we crossed the Rio Grande
I can see it in your eyes
How proud you were to fight for freedom in this land

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando
Though I never thought that we could lose
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando
Though I never thought that we could lose
There's no regret
If I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando

Yes, if I had to do the same again
I would, my friend, Fernando

Benny and Bjorn in 2013, Guests at Eurovision. Eurovision was a big part of Abba’s success story, after they won the contest in 1974, marking Sweden’s first victory.
Benny and Bjorn in 2013, Guests at Eurovision. Eurovision was a big part of Abba’s success story, after they won the contest in 1974, marking Sweden’s first victory. | Source

Who Was Emiliano Zapata?

Emiliano Zapata Salazar was a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution. He was the main leader of the peasant revolution in the state of Morelos. He was also the inspiration for the agrarian movement called Zapatismo.

Zapata was partly influenced by an anarchist from Northern Mexico named Ricardo Flores Magón. The influence of Magón on Zapata can be seen in the Zapatismo Plan de Ayala. It is even more noticeable in the Zapatista slogan "Tierra y libertad" or "land and liberty".

Zapata was born in the rural village of Anenecuilco in Morelos State. The peasant communities were under increasing pressure from a small landowning class who monopolized the arable land and suppressed the voices of indigenous Mexicans. They also monopolized the water resources for sugar cane production with the support of the dictator Porfirio Díaz.

In 1910 Zapata was positioned as a central leader of the peasant revolt in Morelos. Zapata cooperated with other peasant leaders and formed the Liberation Army of the South. He became the undisputed leader of the rebellion. His work led to the implementation of article 27 in the Mexican constitution, which led to land reforms in his homeland. Zapata was seen as a threat by many other movements as well as by the Mexican government. He was eventually assassinated. His body is buried at Cuautla cemetery, Cuautla.

To further understand Zapata's ascension and the need for revolution in Mexico, we need to take a look at what events led to the rise of the militaristic Mexican government of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Brief History of the Mexican-American War

Also known as the Mexican War in the United States, and the American intervention in Mexico, the Mexican-American War was an armed conflict between the United States of America and the United Mexican States from 1846 to 1848. It followed in the wake of the 1845 American annexation of the independent Republic of Texas.

During that time, Mexico had considerable instability under the leadership of President/General Antonio López de Santa Anna. Mexico still considered Texas to be its northeastern province and a part of its territory. The Mexican government did not recognize the Republic of Texas, which had seceded from Mexico in the 1836 Texas Revolution. In 1845, newly elected U.S. President James K. Polk sent troops to the disputed area, and a diplomatic mission to Mexico. After Mexican forces attacked American forces, Polk requested that Congress declare war.

Roots of the Conflict

The northern area of Mexico was sparsely settled and not well controlled politically by the Mexican government. After independence from Spain in 1821, Mexico underwent many internal struggles (which sometimes verged on civil war). In the sparsely settled areas of northern Mexico, the end of Spanish rule was marked by the end of financing for presidios and for subsidies to indigenous Americans to maintain the peace. However, conflicts continued between indigenous people in the northern region and Mexican forces. The Comanche were particularly successful in expanding their territory in the Comanche–Mexico Wars. They were able to garner many resources. The Apache–Mexico Wars also made Mexico's north a violent place. Still, this had little effect on the distribution of political control in the region.

Origins of the Mexican-American War

U.S. President James K. Polk made a proposition to purchase Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México from Mexico. In this he proclaimed the Rio Grande river as the southern border of the United States. However, that offer was rejected. In response, president Polk moved U.S. troops (commanded by Major General Zachary Taylor) south into the disputed Nueces Strip.

The Nueces Strip on the border of Texas was an independent state. Originally, it was never settled. The Republic of Texas claimed land up to the Rio Grande based on the Treaties of Velasco. However, Mexico refused to accept these claims as valid. Mexico claimed that the Rio Grande was the Nueces, and referred to the Rio Grande as the Rio Bravo. When the Texan Santa Fe Expedition of 1841 attempted to claim New Mexican territory East of the Rio Grande, its members were captured and imprisoned. Anger and hostility between the two countries rose dramatically.

In July 1845, Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to Texas. By October of 1845, 3,500 Americans were on the Nueces River. They were ordered to take the region by force if necessary. Polk desired to protect the border. He also wanted to grow the U.S. continent clear to the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, Polk wrote to the American consul in the Mexican territory of Alta California, disclaiming American ambitions in California. However, this also offered to support independence from Mexico or voluntary accession to the United States. It warned that the United States would oppose a British or French takeover.

In November 1845, Polk sent John Slidell in secret to Mexico City. He was to offer the Mexican government $25 million for the Rio Grande border in Texas and for Mexico's provinces of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo México. U.S. expansionists wanted to buy California in order to thwart British ambitions in the area and gain a port on the Pacific Ocean. For this purpose, Polk authorized Slidell to forgive the $3 million owed to U.S. citizens for damages caused by the Mexican War of Independence. He also offered to pay another $25 to $30 million in exchange for the two territories.

Mexico's Refusal

Mexico was not inclined nor able to negotiate. In 1846, the presidency changed hands four times, the war ministry six times, and the finance ministry sixteen times. Mexican public opinion and all political factions refused the idea of selling the territories to the United States. They believed that this would tarnish the national honor.

Mexicans who opposed direct conflict with the United States were viewed as traitors. Populist newspapers considered Slidell's presence in Mexico City to be an insult. When Mexican president José Joaquín de Herrera considered receiving Slidell to settle the problem of Texas annexation peacefully, he was accused of treason and deposed. As a result a more nationalistic government (ruled by General Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga) came to power. This new government reaffirmed Mexico's claim to Texas.

More Causes for the War

  • Southern desire to increase the number of slave states.
  • American mass media created hysteria about Mexico and Mexicans.
  • Control of resources by Southern States.

Famous People in Opposition to the Mexican-American War

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Fredrick Douglass
  • Henry David Thoreau
  • Robert Toombs

This military escalation led to a long history of negative relations between the U.S. and Mexico. The power of the Mexican military and the country's new nationalistic tendencies are partially responsible for rise of such anti-democratic leaders as Porfirio Diaz. The further subjugation of the Mexican people by these military-first leaders would be a major cause for the Mexican Revolution.

Brief History of the Mexican Revolution

The Mexican Revolution was a major armed struggle that truly came to fruition from 1910–1920. It radically transformed Mexican culture and government.

General Porfirio Díaz's Regime

The late nineteenth-century of Mexican history was dominated by General Porfirio Díaz, who became president of Mexico in 1876. He ruled almost continuously (with the exception of 1880–1884) until his forced resignation in 1911. During his time in power, Díaz created a formidable political machine. He worked with regional strongmen, bringing them into his regime. He then replaced them with jefes políticos (political bosses) who were loyal to him. He managed political conflict and reined in the proclivity toward autonomy. Diaz appointed a number of military officers to state governorships, including General Bernardo Reyes, who became governor of the northern state of Nuevo León. Over the years, military men were largely replaced by civilians loyal to Díaz. With so much power in the hands of so few, the voices of the Mexican people went unheard by their leadership.

In 1905, Mexican intellectuals and agitators who had created the Mexican Liberal Party (Partido Liberal de México) drew up plans for a radical program of reform. The program specifically addressed the worst aspects of the Díaz regime. Most prominent in the PLM were Ricardo Flores Magón and his two brothers, Enrique and Jesús. Along with Luis Cabrera Lobato and Antonio Díaz Soto y Gama, the Liberal Party were connected to the anti-Díaz publication El Hijo de Ahuizote. The political cartoons of José Guadalupe Posada lampooned politicians and cultural elites with mordant humor, portraying them as skeletons. The Liberal Party of Mexico founded the anti-Díaz anarchist newspaper Regeneración. This anti-Diaz publication helped grow public opposition to Diaz and spread word of his crimes against the Mexican people. Diaz was forced to address the growing public perception that he was standing in the way of a free society. There was a massive demand for him to leave power and for the Mexican government to transition to a more democratic state.

Diaz's Attempt to Stay in Power

In a 1908 interview with U.S. journalist James Creelman, Díaz said that Mexico was ready for democracy and that he would step down to allow other candidates to compete for the presidency. Unfortunately, Díaz later refused to retire from the presidency. This set off immense activity from opposition groups.

In 1909, Díaz and U.S. President William Howard Taft conducted a historic summit, held in both El Paso, Texas, and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. This summit was the first meeting between a sitting U.S. president and a Mexican president.

Díaz had requested the meeting to show that American supported his planned eighth run as president. Taft agreed to support Diaz in order to protect the billions of dollars of American capital the country had invested in Mexico.

Francisco I. Madero's Opposition to Diaz

Francisco I. Madero was a young man from a wealthy land-owning family in the northern state of Coahuila. In 1910, he announced his intent to challenge Díaz for the presidency in the next election, under the banner of the Anti-Reelectionist Party. Madero chose Francisco Vázquez Gómez as his running mate. Gomez was a physician who had opposed Díaz.

Although Madero was fairly similar to Díaz in his overall ideology, Madero hoped for other elites to rule alongside the president. The successful transition of power would at least be a step forward in establishing a more authentic democratic state.

Díaz thought he could control the election, as he had the previous seven. However, Madero campaigned passionately and effectively. Staying true to his authoritarian ambitions, Diaz, to ensure that Madero did not win the election, had him jailed. With help from other anti-Diaz groups, Madero escaped and fled to San Antonio, Texas. Díaz was announced the winner of the election by a "landslide." It was obvious that the election had been fixed. In response to this blatantly anti-democratic election, Madero supporter Toribio Ortega took up arms with a group of followers at Cuchillo Parado, Chihuahua on November 10, 1910.

Revolutionary Movements Against General Porfirio Diaz

In late 1910, revolutionary movements broke out in response to Madero's Plan de San Luis Potosí. Madero's had made vague promises of land reform in Mexico. These attracted many impoverished agricultural workers throughout Mexico. Spontaneous rebellions across the country. Ordinary farm laborers, miners, and other working-class Mexicans, along with much of the country's population of indigenous natives, fought Díaz's forces (with some success). Initially, Madero attracted the forces of rebel leaders such as Pascual Orozco, Pancho Villa, Ricardo Flores Magón, Emiliano Zapata, and Venustiano Carranza. Orozco, along with governor Abraham González, formed a powerful military union in the north. They took Mexicali and Chihuahua City. These victories encouraged alliances with other revolutionary leaders, including Pancho Villa. Against Madero's wishes, Orozco and Villa fought for and won Ciudad Juárez, bordering El Paso, Texas, on the south side of the Rio Grande. Madero's call to action had unanticipated results, leading to the Magonista rebellion of 1911 in Baja, California.

Diaz's Federal Army was defeated in a string of battles, leading the Diaz's government to begin negotiations with the revolutionaries. The talks came to a climax in the May 21, 1911 Treaty of Ciudad Juárez. The treaty stated that Díaz would abdicate the presidency along with his vice president Ramón Corral by the end of May 1911. They would be replaced by an interim president, Francisco León de la Barra, until elections were held.

While this was a major step forward, some supporters criticized Madero for not simply seizing the presidency from Diaz, and for failing to pass immediate reforms. Nevertheless, by following the electoral process, Madero established a liberal democracy and received support from the United States and popular leaders such as Orozco, Villa, and Zapata.

At first, Francisco León de la Barra became interim president of Mexico after Diaz stepped down. Another election was held in 1911 and Madero won a decisive victory. He was inaugurated as president in November 1911.

Although Diaz's age of totalitarianism came to a close, political disputes between anarcho-syndicalists, state socialists, capitalists, liberals, and conservatives raged on.

Remembering the Everyday People

As you can see, both internal conflicts between Mexicans and external conflicts between Mexico and the United States have been riddled with corruption, heroics, backstabbing, and misinformation. What gets lost from our history books is the hard work of everyday people. The 'Fernando's' of the world are too easily forgotten—those who simply wish to live a better life. ABBA elevated the status of the everyday warrior, those whose stories are so often not told.

More Songs Based on Revolutions

Artist
Song
Country
N/A
"The Cockroach"
Spain and Mexico
Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle
"The Bloody Standard Is Raised"
France
Dmitri Shostakovich
"The Other Lady Macbeth"
Russia/Soviet Union
Os Mutantes
"Bread And Circuses"
Brazil
Mohamed Mounir
"Ezzay"
Egypt
Gerald Marks and Seymour Simons
"All of Me"
U.S.A
Pete Seeger
"We Shall Overcome"
U.S.A
U2
"Pride (In the Name of Love)"
Ireland

ABBA

Do you think ABBA was one of the all time great bands?

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Sources

  • The Biggest Little Name In The History Of Recorded Music, S.E. Fitzsimons, in Goldmine, March 8, 1991, Vol. 17. No.5 Issue 277
  • elyrics.com

  • Abba-intermezzo.de

Questions & Answers

    Comments

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      • profile image

        Bert Gedin 

        2 months ago

        I am old enough to remember ABBA since 'Waterloo'. But I was mistaken in thinking 'Fernando' was about Spain's Civil War. The name, Fernando sounds Spanish.

      • profile image

        Vincent Mbagwu 

        3 months ago

        Fernando is timeless and forever will continue to linger in our hearts. Please keep up the good job you are doing there.

      • profile image

        Gilllian 

        5 months ago

        Enjoyed reading about Fernando as it is my favourite Abba song.

        Just to point out that at the moment your vote for Abba being a great group adds up to 101%.

        Thanks!

      • profile image

        Vdesgfddpfds 

        6 months ago

        Ferniarndo

        Karen Flores

      • profile image

        Miguel Garza 

        14 months ago

        At first, I could not make up my mind if the song was a tribute to the fight at the Alamo, or the Mexican Revolution. Thanks for the heads-up. Viva la Patria!

      • profile image

        KDS 

        18 months ago

        Keep it up Mel

      • profile image

        Wendy Lynn 

        18 months ago

        Loved this article! Learned alot!

      • profile image

        jerry 

        19 months ago

        Abba was completely unique in style and had more really great tunes than any other band I know.

      • profile image

        Philip 

        2 years ago

        Enjoying the pieces, nice job

      • Mel Jay profile imageAUTHOR

        Mel Jay 

        4 years ago from Australia

        Thanks suresh

      • profile image

        suresh 

        4 years ago

        i Appreciate work.

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