It’s Time for a Christmas Disco Classic From Charo

Charo "(Mamacita) ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?" 12" single with Tom Moulton mix released on Salsoul in 1978. Seen here at Pasadena City College Flea Market. (Photo: Liz Ohanesian, February 2022)
That time in 2022 that I found the 12″ single for Charo “(Mamacita) ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?” at PCC Flea Market. (Photo: Liz O.)

The 12” appeared in the midst of a deep dig through crates set up inside a Pasadena City College parking garage during the monthly PCC flea market. I had already excavated records by Harry Nilsson, Tangerine Dream and Patrice Rushen when a friend, whose visit to Los Angeles was the catalyst for this adventure, called me over to a booth filled with soundtrack albums and soul records. I flipped through As the Record Turns ‘ vinyl selection and paused when I noticed “(Mamacita) ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?” the 1978 disco Christmas single from Charo, “A Tom Moulton Mix” released as an extended 12” single on Salsoul with a stamped note on the backside of the cover that read:

 “In all my life, the most happy time of the year is Christmas and I want to share it with you. When you play this record I’ll be with you. Merry Christmas. Love and cuchi cuchi, Charo.”

I may have gasped. After spending much of lockdown making disco mixes and immersing myself in YouTube clips from 1970s variety shows, this Charo record was exactly what my collection needed.   I thought that score completed my mission for the day. It did not. Records by ABBA and Grace Jones followed as we continued our survey of the mini record fair. So did Veronica Castro’s album with the theme song from Los Ricos Tambien Lloran. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this was a great dig. It actually resulted in a story ( a profile of As the Record Turns for Southern California News Group). Plus, I still think about that trip nearly two years later, particularly now that the time has come to break out “(Mamacita) ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?”

The only drawback of that Charo 12” is that the opportunities to play it in my sets are rare. After all, songs about Santa Claus only make sense in December. On top of that, it has be a vinyl gig and, preferably, one where I’m mostly playing disco. So, most likely, you’re only chance to hear this in one of my sets is on Sunday, December 3, at Disco Matinee, which is happening at Grand Star Jazz Club in Chinatown from 3-7 p.m. 

Anyhow, back to the record. “¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?” was originally released by Augie Rios back in 1958. It’s been covered a handful of times over the decades and my personal favorite is Charo’s version, particularly this 12” mix with the extended castanet disco break. It’s legit 1970s holiday heat. It also brings up a weird paradox of the 1970s. Charo was a major pop culture figure of the decade, but she’s still relatively unheralded as a disco queen. Even as contemporary writers have reassessed her career, like in a New York Times profile from last year, Charo’s disco era is essentially a side note. To me, that’s wild, especially considering that she worked extensively with Salsoul, one of the seminal labels of the genre, and Tom Moulton, who pioneered the 12” extended mix. 

Charo is a guitarist by training. She started learning the instrument as a child in Spain and studied with Andrés Segovia. It can’t be said enough times: Charo is a badass on guitar. Still, in the U.S., she became best known as an overall performer and, particularly, as a television personality. She turned up on the Ed Sullivan Show back in the 1960s and remained a popular talk show guest in the years that followed. She appeared on Hollywood Squares (with Paul Lynde!), performed on variety shows through the 1970s and was a frequent guest on The Love Boat. What’s interesting is that, when I searched for Charo in a few different newspaper archives, her name mostly popped up in the TV listings. It seems like she was almost inescapable if you had a television set in the 1970s and early 1980s. Other than the TV listings, Charo tends to turn up in articles as a pop culture reference, her name synonymous with Las Vegas, where she performed. 

Actual print interviews with Charo from this period are few, far between and not very good. Plus, I found little-to-nothing written about her music back in the day, which is a shame because, at the same time that Charo was boarding The Love Boat, she was releasing killer albums on Salsoul. Cuchi-Cuchi, credited to Charo and the Salsoul Orchestra, makes use of her catchphrase, includes the song “Borriquito” (which Charo discussed earlier this year on KCRW), plus two that you might have heard in my own DJ sets, “Dance a Little Bit Closer” and “You’re Just the Right Size.” She followed that up with Olé Olé, which includes Charo’s rendition of The Love Boat theme, plus “Hot Love” and “Stay With Me,” which were mashed up into a remix by Dimitri from Paris and Monsieur D many years late. Bailando Con Charo, from 1981, includes a killer slow jam “Solo Para Ti” and a beautiful, guitar-centric cover of “Chiquitita,” for which Charo has a producer credit. 

I’m telling you, disco Charo is a real rabbit hole. Start searching and you might unearth some tunes to drop in your own sets. But, as is often the case with Internet rabbit holes, there’s, ultimately, very little good information about this music online. Every time I turn up the Charo jams, I launch into web searches that leave me with more questions than answers. Maybe one day I’ll find some hard copy releases with more details in the liner notes than have turned up on Discogs. Maybe too I’ll be able to get an editor to assign me a story and then just ask Charo myself. I have no idea what the future will hold, except that there’s a reasonably strong expectation that you’ll hear me play “(Mamacita) ¿Donde Esta Santa Claus?” at least once this holiday season. 

Liz O. is an L.A.-based writer and DJ. Read her recently published work and check out her upcoming gigs.