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Moreno's 'El Burrito Sabanero', Welcomed Update To A Holiday Song


Tu Burrito, or little donkey, one who is on a journey to Bethlehem the night Jesus was born. That story is captured in the song "El Burrito Sabanerro." This morning we're reimagining the seasonal classic from Latin America. Felix Contreras, from NPR Music's Alt.Latino, explains why he thinks the updated version of this song is a welcome addition to the holidays.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: First of all, it's not an old song. It was written by Venezuelan composer Hugo Blanco, and it was recorded in 1976 by a children's group called La Rondallita. And it's one of those ubiquitous songs that you can't really get away from. You hear it at choirs, parties and even shopping malls.


LA RONDALLITA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: It has very simple lyrics. Like a lot of children's music, the lyrics are repeated over and over - (reciting Spanish lyrics) - with my little burro, I'm on my way to Bethlehem - burrito in the song, of course, being little burro or donkey.

Hugo Blanco wrote many songs, including a very famous bolero called "Moliendo Cafe." And his signature was to very often mix in traditional Venezuelan Haropo music. Now, check out a very clever vocalization of the something's main characteristic - this intricate finger-picking on a harp called an arpa llanera. This is the song's bridge, or the middle section.


LA RONDALLITA: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: There are a lot of different versions of "Mi Burrito Sabanero." But a new one shoots right to the top of my list. This is from Guatemalan vocalist and songwriter Gaby Moreno. She has a great new Christmas album out. It's called Posada. And this is her version.


GABY MORENO: (Singing in Spanish).

CONTRERAS: Now, she changed it to a cumbia, a rhythm that's originally from Colombia, but it's popular all over Latin America. But why is this one my favorite? Because I'm a very big fan of Gaby Moreno, and it is part of an album that raises the bar for holiday music. There's music from Latin America, traditional songs we know here in the U.S., but interpreted with Latin rhythms and Spanish lyrics and a couple of familiar songs in English with a voice that always slays me every time I hear it. "Mi Burrito Sabanero" is a track that illustrates what this album is all about - an update on tradition that really, really works.


MORENO: (Singing in Spanish).

GREENE: I love listening to holiday music from around the world. Felix Contreras is co-host of NPR Music's Alt.Latino, a weekly podcast and radio program about Latin alternative music, and it's at


MORENO: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.
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