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Mambo Santa MamboDespite appearances, Mambo Santa Mambo: Christmas From The Latin Lounge (Rhino Records, 2000) isn't about Latin music, per se. Rather, it's about the Latin music craze that gripped American pop like a tropical fever during the 1950's - think of Ricky Ricardo and Carmen Miranda. This was Latin music smartly packaged for an urbane, white market. To wit, several artists on Mambo Santa Mambo are Anglos (Billy May, Hugo Winterhalter), and most sing mainly in English. Plus, the release closely followed a lounge music revival that sprung up during the post-grunge 1990's. All the same, Mambo Santa Mambo is a bona fide riot, alternating slinky grooves with goofy novelties ("How can Santa come to Puerto Rico," asks little Ricky Vera, "when there isn't any snow?"). Luckily, Rhino also makes time for some salsa muy authentica, courtesy Celia Cruz, and even a little rock 'n' roll, most notably the Enchanters' doo wop classic that lends Mambo Santa Mambo its name.

Perhaps the most entertaining moments, though, are the straight-ahead dance numbers - most of them simply applying Latin rhythms to Christmas standards. We are treated to "Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer," for instance, arranged as both a mambo (Billy May) and a cha cha (Hernando Hopkins). We also get "The Christmas Song," "Snowfall," "Here Comes Santa Claus," and "Jingle Bells" (three times!) underpinned by a variety of spicy Latin beats.

With this sort of Latin music, you see, it's all about the dance - how you move it is as important as what you move it to. The first priority of a good Latin record is to get your hips shaking, and though some of these artists (Steve Allen?) are about as Latin as mayonnaise, Mambo Santa Mambo gets that part right.

Mambo Mania: The Kings and Queens of MamboAs has become their practice on compilations like these, Rhino lamentably includes one pointlessly out-of-place modern song, the Flashcats' tasteless "December Twenty 5" (1999). Falling nearly 30 years after the next-most recent track, this synthesized piece of crap plays off two contemporary hits, "Mambo No. 5" (Lou Bega) and "Livin' La Vida Loca" (Ricky Martin). Not only does the joke fall flat as a tortilla, it all but ruins the festive mood set by the rest of the tracks. Ai, carumba!

Finally, it's worth noting that Rhino released Mambo Santa Mambo (2000) as a sequel of sorts to Mambo Mania: The Kings and Queens of Mambo (1995), and then released an actual sequel, Mas Mambo Mania: More Kings and Queens of Mambo, the following year. The Mambo Mania discs tend to be more authentico than the ephemeral Mambo Santa Mambo - which, as I've shown, is beside the point. [top of page]

Albums Albums

SongsSongs

  • The Christmas Song Cha Cha (Hugo Winterhalter, 1958)
  • Corrido de Auld Lang Syne (Dance Of The New Year) (Little Bobby Rey & His Band, 1959)
  • Donde Esta Santa Claus? (Augie Rios, 1953)
  • Here Comes Santa Claus (Esquivel with the Skip Jacks, 1959)
  • How Can Santa Come To Puerto Rico? (Ricky Vera & Steve Allen, 1953)
  • I Saw Mommy Do The Mambo (With You Know Who) (Jimmy Boyd, 1954)
  • Jingle Bells (Celia Cruz with La Sonora Matancera, 1958)
  • Jingle Bells (Joe Loco Quintet, 1955)
  • Mambo Santa Mambo (Enchanters, 1957)
  • Rockin' "J" Bells (Little Bobby Rey & His Band, 1959)
  • Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Mambo (Billy May, 1953)
  • Snowfall Cha Cha (Billy May, 1960)
  • We Wanna See Santa Do The Mambo (Bill Darnell & The Smith Brothers, 1954)
  • Winter Wonderland Cha Cha (Tina Robin, 1958)

Further ListeningFurther Listening

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