Medieval ear-worm challenge

Riu Riu Chiu

Can you learn one of the 3 parts of this 16th century spanish villancico before we meet again in person? Beware, the catchy tune and rhythm with an extra beat thrown in at the end of phrases can quickly become an endless loop in your aural channels.

It is in the form of verse/refrain (coplas/estribillo). The verse is a solo and the refrain is in 3 voices.

Here’s the whole thing together with all 3 voices, followed by a separate recording for each of the harmony parts.

Riu Riu Chiu full song with all 3 voices

And here is each of the 3 voices of the refrain …

Riu Riu Chiu voice 1 refrain
Riu Riu Chiu voice 2 refrain
Riu Riu Chiu voice 3 refrain

Here is the solo verse. You could make up your own words.

Riu Riu Chiu verse (solo)

Here’s the sheet music. There are a lot of different arrangements but they all have the same tune and all have an extra beat thrown in at the end of each phrase. Wiki says it has its roots in a medieval dance form.


Riu Riu Chiu la guarda ribera
Dios gardo el lobo e nuestra cordera

The words mean (roughly)

The cry of kingfisher “Riu Riu Chiu!” warns of danger on the ribera (riverside shanty town or slum quarter)
Oh god, warn us of danger from the wolf
And keep it on the other side of the water

2 thoughts on “Medieval ear-worm challenge”

    1. Great rendition! Thanks Simon. the Monkeys take it home after 400 years.

      I’m glad Riu Riu Chiu is moving into popular music again, but not as a Christmas carol. The chorus is prolly from the original villancico, but the verses (estribillo) were re-written by the church in 16-17 century. Originally the villancicos were secular and about rustic topics. I think we should write some of our own like the church did.

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