Music is a universal language. Many Spanish speaking singers can sing in English without even being able to speak a word of English. Have some fun by checking out this ESL website which has many great Spanish language resources. The scrambled exercise is a lot of fun.

Mambo Santa Mambo, various artists (Rhino)

This is subtitled "Christmas From the Latin Lounge," and that last word is key; better than half the stuff on here is basically lounge music, although the "mambo" part of the title does come into play as well. Some of the giants of that genre, such as Hugo Winterhalter and Esquivel, are here, and some 50s R&B pays a visit too, such as The Enchanters' "Mambo Santa Mambo" and "Rockin' 'J' Bells" by Little Bobby Rey, who returns later in the album with a Latin-flavored "Corrido de Auld Lang Syne." Bill Darnel and The Smith Brothers do a white-bread version of "We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo," at least compared to Big John Greer's version, preserved on Rhino's Hipsters' Holiday CD. Steve Allen, the late great Steverino himself, contributes an original, "How Can Santa Come to Puerto Rico" performed by Ricky Vera. Jimmy Boyd, the 1950s pre-pubescent king of Christmas, is here with "I Saw Mommy Do the Mambo (With You Know Who)." An often-used Latin number, Augie Rios' "Donde Esta Santa Claus," makes another apperance here, and Pittsburgh's favorite sons The Flashcats treat us to the only modern-day track, "December Twenty 5," a parody of Lou Bega's "Mambo No. 5." Copious liner notes in the Rhino tradition are contributed by Eddie Gorodetsky -- hey, is that our old friend Eddie G?

Mas! A Caribbean Christmas Party, various artists (Rykodisc)

So how do people who've only ever seen snow on television, if then, celebrate Christmas? This 1992 compilation goes a long way toward answering that question. The songs here run from the early 1960s to the 90s and include some catchy numbers, like Lord Nelson's "A Party for Santa Claus" and Machel's "Soca Santa," probably the only song in which Santa trades his sleigh not for a Cadillac, but "a big time Toyota." Jacob Miller and Ray I do a reggae turn on "Deck the Halls" and Carlene Davis and Trinity change James Brown's demand into a question in "Santa Claus (Do You Ever Come to the Ghetto)." And James Spence's "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" sounds like an Alan Lomax field holler, but at least it isn't played in Phil Spector's arrangement yet again. A big chunk of the album is an 18-minute medley of Christmas songs in French by Eddy Gustave, which isn't bad but goes on way too long to suit me. Still worthwhile holiday listening, especially if your Christmases include lots of sand, sun and rum.

"Mele Kalikimaka"

.... is the thing to say, on a bright Hawaiian Christmas day. It's always fun to contemplate non-white Christmases in the sunnier climes. "Exotica" (read cocktail) artist Arthur Lyman did an early version if not the original, and his With a Christmas Vibe album with this song was reissued in 1997 on Rykodisc. Poi Dog Pondering covered it with the help of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and the Blue Hawaiians did it on their Christmas On Big Island album. Pineapple daiquiri with that, sir?

Christmas On Big Island, The Blue Hawaiians (Restless)

A little South Pacific surf, a little boogie and lots of steel guitar and you have The Blue Hawaiians. And what could be more natural for a band like this one than to do a Christmas album? Lots of things. Nevertheless, this short (10 songs) but energetic album has plenty to recommend it. Most of the tunes are instrumentals, except for "Jingle Jangle," "Blue Christmas," the title song and "Mele Kalikimaka," the official Hawaiian Christmas song. The band manages to maintain a tension between their trademark sound and the material, which also includes "Christmas Time is Here," "White Christmas," "Have Yourself a Quiet (Merry) Little Christmas" and a medley of "We Four Kings (The Little Drummer Boy)" in which the little drummer played on the Surfaris' "Wipe Out" in a former life.

It's Christmas, Man!, Brave Combo (Rounder)

This merry band of musicologists masquerading as the world's screwiest polka combo take on Latin forms like samba, cha cha, ranchera as well as the waltz and ska on this lighthearted Christmas album. There are a few originals mixed in among the standards, like "It's Christmas," "Christmas in July," "Corrido Navideno" and "Santa's Polka," along with the classics that get patented Brave Combo arrangements, like a ska "The Christmas Song," "The Little Drummer Boy" as guaguanco, a samba "O Christmas Tree," and surprisingly, a straight blues reading of "Please Come Home For Christmas." They also did a version of "Oh Holy Night Cha Cha Cha" on their Musical Varieties album. Hanukkah alert: a hora version of "Hanukkah Oh Hanukkah."


Eras: The Beginning, The Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Genres: Reggae, Soul/R&B, Rap, Blues, Punk, Surfin' Xmas, Tropical

Novelties: Fifties and Sixties, The Seventies, The Eighties, The Nineties, The 21st Century

Compilations: Regular Comps, Charity Comps, Soundtracks

Special Reports: Recent Releases, Hanukkah, Miscellaneous