Sunday, December 13, 2015

My Musical Advent Calendar

"Donde Esta Santa Claus" /
Straight No Chaser

Well, while we're in the international Christmas novelty songs mode...

In 1959, this Spanglish tune was a modest hit for 12-year-old Augie Rios. The late 50s Pan American thing was in full swing, so why not? The song was written by George Scheck, Rod Parker, and Al Greiner, none of whose names sound particularly Latino (just sayin'). But Havana was still hot, and when the cha cha cha supplanted the mambo as Latin Flavor of the Month, these guys were ready to jump onto the boat.

Augie's version is a wee bit grating; I also like Guster's cover of it, but I deeply appreciate how the a cappella group Straight No Chaser adds a little sophisticated suavity to the Latin beat.

It's another of those kids'-eye views of Christmas, as our singer earnestly begs, "Mamacita, donde esta Santa Claus?"  Okay, even my rudimentary Spanish skills can handle that -- "Mom, where's Santa Claus?" He's hungry for toys, he's looking out the window -- so far, it's like any kid anywhere in the world.

But the songwriters felt obliged to throw in a few clich├ęd Latino details -- "I hope he won't forget / To click his castanet" (hmmm -- don't we need two castanets to make a sound?). The list of reindeer names that we know so well from "Twas the Night Before Christmas" * is transmogrified into "Oh! Pancho, Oh! Vixen, / Oh! Pedro, Oh! Blitzen, / Ole! Ole! Ole! Cha cha cha," Ermm, yes....well, a little racist. (Let's just hope that Augie Rios earned enough to go to college from this record.) But Straight No Chaser blithely substitutes their own wacky in-joke reindeer names (Gordo? Slubs?) and cha-cha-chas through it all.

Well, I do love a good Latin beat, and I'm won over by those melting doo-wop harmonies, along with the conga-styled beat box and the mariachi mouth organs. It's all about the garnishes -- the harmonized sighs, the maraca effects, the high-country sagebrush echoes -- the meticulous details that really good a cappella groups can't resist.

Before our final descent into full-on carols mode, a little trip south of the border for some feliz navidad is a welcome break. It's an earworm, all right, and I'm grooving on it.

* Real title: "A Visit From St. Nicholas," by Clement Clarke Moore

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