Dancing in December

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Salsa Claus
climbs down the chimenea of this edition’s language section with a lyrical guide to the season’s music


A guaranteed way to appear even more of an odd species to your suegros than you already do: play them ‘Fairytale of New York’ by The Pogues and tell them this is Christmas music in your country.

“But música de diciembre is supposed to be bailable, alegre…” says the puzzled looking tía in the corner.

Don’t try to explain it. Rather, if you’re lucky enough to be spending the festive period here, get in the mood with our guide to Colombian Christmas music.

Mi burrito sabanero

Ask a Colombian what they consider typical festive music and surprisingly few, for such a Christian country, will mention songs that even allude to Navidad. Luckily, at my first ever office novena I was roped into strumming and singing this villancico – Christmas carol – about a little donkey from the savannah making his way to Bethlehem.

Con mi burrito sabanero, voy camino de Belén (x2)
Si me ven, si me ven, voy camino de Belén (x2)

The composer is the Venezuelan Hugo Blanco, who passed away aged 74 in June – meaning you might hear this even more than usual this year. If you’re in appropriate company, we recommend belting out the alternative version, El Burrito Cervecero. Google those lyrics yourself.

Tabaco y ron (Rodolfo y su Típica)

It may call itself the país del sagrado corazón, but Colombia basically uses Christmas as an excuse for an almighty rumba lasting several days, most perfectly summed up in the title of this classic cumbia that Narcos fans will have heard over the credits of episode nine. The chorus needs little translating.

Tabaco, tabaco, tabaco
Tabaco y ron
Tabaco, tabaco, pero tabaco
Tabaco y ron

You will hear a lot of Rodolfo Aicardi – a legendary cantautor of música popular from Magangué, Bolívar – in December, with ‘Adornay’ one of those songs that nunca falta at a festive family party.

El hijo ausente (Pastor López y Su Combo)

Aicardi is also a major proponent of the fantastically onomatopoeically named Chucu Chucu genre, real traditional música del pueblo that heart-warmingly comes into fashion every December among both pelados and viejos. Chucu chucu refers to the sound made by scraping the guacharaca (hence the genre’s alternative name: raspa). But arguably the Christmas king of chucu chucu is this Venezuelan classic, despite the genre originating in Colombia. The lyrics speak to many expats missing their family…

Vamos a brindar por el ausente
Que el año que viene esté presente
Vamos a desearle buena suerte
Y que Dios lo guarde de la muerte

Las caleñas son como las flores (The Latin Brothers)

Salsa Claus will be in only one place on Christmas Day: Cali, at the opening of the world famous Feria. Each year, one song is voted the Disco de la Feria. We recommend checking out a list of all the winning tracks since the 1950s for an unrivalled romp through the rich diversity of Colombian music. But señor Claus could only pick one, and this track is particularly timeless.

Las caleñas son como las flores
Que vestidas van de mil colores

Faltan cinco pa’ las doce (Néstor Zavarce)

Finally a December classic with lyrics vaguely relating to the time of year! Like many of the songs you’ll hear this month, it originated in Venezuela, but the DJ is not worth the name if he’s not putting this one on at five to twelve. (Expats are advised to find a stand-in Mum in advance.)

Faltan cinco pa’ las doce
El año va a terminar
Me voy corriendo a mi casa
A abrazar a mi mamá

Cabeza de hacha (El Burro Mocho)

‘Axe head’ by The Dehorned Donkey may sound a little like a spoof heavy metal band, but in fact it is a classic that rings out across the country from the Eje cafetero to Valledupar during the holidays. El Burro Mocho was born Noel Petro in Cerete, Córdoba, in 1936 and became a pioneer of the tropical and vallenato genres. Mind you, if you examine the lyrics you’ll find that the tía has some front complaining about the alleged melancholic nature of British Christmas music…

He vivido soportando martirios, martirios
Jamás debo de mostrarme cobarde
Arrastrando esta cadena tan fuerte
Hasta que mi triste vida se acabe

This is but a glimpse…

…of the fascinating music you’ll hear in Colombia this Christmas. Notable tragic absences here that will definitely not be absent at your parties are the likes of Fruko y Sus Tesos, El Cuarteto Imperial, Alfredo Gutierrez, Diomedes Díaz (if you’re anywhere near the costa), Octavio Mesa and Las Hermanitas Calle if you’re partying with paisas, Los Corraleros de Majagual (Los Beatles colombianos), Helenita Vargas, and Nury Borrás.


¡Feliz Navidad y próspero Año Nuevo! – Salsa Claus (Olly West to his friends)

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