Christmas Countdown, Monday #4

Day 25

Feliz lunes, y otra navidad española, esta vez con Natalia Jiménez. She is one of the first singers whose songs I started to learn to sing, both as a solo artist and with her group La Quinta Estación (or La 5ª estación, if we’re doing it properly), and she’s pretty amazing.

In case you’re wondering, my favorites of hers are Creo en mi and El sol no regresa, which also has one of those amazing one-shot videos. Here, she performs the old classic Blanca Navidad, or White Christmas, and this is a pretty amazing example of how to translate the idea of lyrics while keeping the rhythm and not relying on being absolutely literal.

Watch the previous video or see the next.

Christmas Countdown, Monday #3

Day 18

It’s Monday, so time for Spanish Christmas carols; los villancicos navideños españoles. This one is very special to me, but first a little back story.

Like a lot of kids in Southern California, I took four years of language between middle and high school. Well, in my case, five, but the last year was German because I’d topped out with the AP (advanced placement) class in the other one.

The first four years… well, four levels over five years, I was lucky enough to get Spanish. (It was luck of the draw between Spanish, French, and German.) I loved the language and loved learning it — I’ve had a thing for other languages since about first grade — but when we got to that last class, our teacher did us a great disservice.

She let us vote on whether we wanted to focus on language or literature, and the vast majority of us voted for the former. She overruled it — so why did we vote, again? — saying that we would learn the language by reading the literature. The only problem was that we weren’t ready for it, especially since we started with Cervantes, who wasn’t even writing modern Spanish. Imagine giving a bunch of fourth-year ESL students Shakespeare and you’ll get the idea.

So it turned out to be a non-productive year, and most of us would drive over the Cal State University Northridge library on weekends, since it was open to LA Unified School District students, although we couldn’t check anything out. What we could do, though, was find and copy the English translations of our reading assignments. (Hey, not quite everything was on the Internet yet.)

This defeated the entire purpose of that year. We would have learned so much more focusing on grammar and conversation. And that was where my Spanish learning ended, although the basics were always in the back of my mind. Still, I forgot quite a lot of it, and couldn’t have carried on a conversation anyway after I graduated.

Flash forward to about seven years ago, and for reasons I won’t get too much into, I found a reason and a need to refresh my Spanish skills. (TL;DR: Doing rewrites on a play of mine being produced that had scenes set in Mexico City and wanted to get it right.) So I started studying again via various methods, like Duolingo, along with reading, joining Spanish language Facebook groups, watching videos on YouTube, and changing my car radio to only Spanish language stations.

And that brings us to this. Every December, the local station KLVE plays a lot of villancicos, and this one was one of the first I ever heard and learned the words to. I also have become a big fan of the performer, Juanes. His stage name, while it looks like the plural of Juan, is actually a portmanteau of the performer’s first two names: Juan Esteban Aristizábal Vásquez.

It’s a simple song about a man riding his little donkey from the savannah (burrito sabanero) to Bethlehem (a Belén.) Belén is also the Spanish name for what English speakers call a nativity scene. ¡Disfrútalo! Enjoy the video!

Check out the previous post, see the next, or start at the beginning.

Christmas Countdown, Monday #2

Day 11

Another Monday, another navidad española, or Spanish Christmas. Today is a song by el grupo Banda Horizonte que se llama «Venid fieles todos». Los angloparlantes quizás sería más familiar con el título «Come All Ye Faithful». Anyway, it’s a very well-known English Christmas carol sung in Spanish, in keeping with the theme of the day.

Check out the previous post or watch the next.

Countdown to Christmas

This originally began as an intended series of Facebook posts starting the day after Thanksgiving, but I forgot one thing. Facebook hates YouTube, so posting a video from there tends to get buried by their algorithm. But… my blog posts don’t, so I’m taking the indirect route back to Facebook, and all my readers get to share in the fun. In this post, I’ll re-cap the first five days, and then we’ll be up to date.

Day 1

As promised, now begins the countdown to Christmas with a series of holiday themed videos. Friday’s theme is “All I Want for Christmas,” aka “Mariah Carey’s Retirement Plan.” I’ll be sharing different takes on her instant Christmas classic. Hey, if you’re going to write a song to cash in on the holiday, at least make it a good one, okay?

This video became an instant favorite of mine when I first stumbled across it. It combines the song with some amazing choreography and a little gender-bending.Choreographed by and Starring Alex Karigan and Zac Hammer, members of Amy Marshall Dance Company. Beyond that and the name they use, The Yahs Initiative, I don’t know much more about the performers or video, other than that most of their videos are Christmas themed, and they haven’t posted anything in three years. Enjoy!

Day 2

Saturday’s Countdown to Christmas theme is famous duets, and I’m kicking it off with a modern classic that has become controversial recently because, when you really listen to the lyrics, it does come off as very date-rapey. Even the lyrics hint at this, with the male vocalist identified as “Wolf,” and the female vocalist identified as “Mouse.”

In this rendition, Lady Gaga and Joseph Gordon-Levitt flip the roles as she plays wolf to his mouse. Do you think this reinforces or negates the perception of the song as being about attempted date rape?

Day 3

Sunday’s theme for Countdown to Christmas is going to be “It’s Not Just Christmas,” a reminder that there are other holidays this time of year. Here’s a song by Bob Grow celebrating that most famous of made-up TV alternative holidays.

Day 4

On Mondays, the theme is going to be Spanish Christmas carols; los lunes tendremos los villancicos navideños españoles. Today, we’ll start with a simple one that most English speakers know and which gets played a lot this year — José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad.” One interesting thing to note is that this simple title reminds us how Spanish construction and word choice frequently follows British, rather than American, usage. “Feliz navidad” literally means “Happy Christmas,” which is what they say in the UK. To be closer to the American “Merry Christmas,” the phrase would probably be “Navidad alegre,” although I don’t think anyone ever says that.

Day 5

For Tuesdays, I’ll be bringing you more tranditional Christmas carols not necessarily performed in traditional ways. Our first goes back to 1988 and the holiday special episode of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” While that show always pretended to be for kids, it really was aimed squarely at adults but flew under the radar of most folk who weren’t in the know, and there was a certain gay sensibility about it. In that context, then, this appearance by Grace Jones was groundbreaking. She was a gender-bending performer and not necessarily family friendly, but there she was, performing the number absolutely straight. Not to mention that her costume and the musical arrangement are both spectacular.

Check out the next post in the series!