Christmas in Miami isn’t marked by snowfall or children bundled up in adorable little sweaters.
Nah. You know it’s holiday season in the 305 when Mi Burrito Sabanero comes on Power 96.
“People start requesting it the week before Thanksgiving,” says Power 96 DJ Lucy Lopez. “It’s bad enough it doesn’t snow here, but people know it’s the holidays once Power 96 plays Mi Burrito.”
They officially start playing the song on the Monday before Thanksgiving every year, and it runs through Dec. 31.
“It’s always a toss up between that and the Santa’s Enchanted Forest jingle,” she laughs.
Growing up in SoFlo, I used to call it the burrito song. I had no idea what I was singing along to, but you better believe I knew all of the words — or at least mumbled something that sounded a lot like it.
So this year, when I heard that adorably annoying little boy come on the radio, I had to find out what the deal was. I queried the The New Tropic staff, some knew bits and pieces, others had intuitions, but no one really knew the whole story.
Then we sent a call out in the newsletter and you delivered. Your responses gave us a few threads to start pulling on, so thanks, and here ya go! (Shout out to Sherezade Rodriguez, JennyLee Molina, Patricia Mazzei, Maria Vicens, and Karl Palsgaard for the tips.)
The song’s original title is “El Burrito de Belén,” even though basically everyone calls it “Mi Burrito Sabanero.” It was composed by Venezuelan musician Hugo Blanco in the early 1970s.
The producers of Topo Gigio, a puppet mouse famous in Spanish and Italian speaking countries (think the Latin American equivalent of Elmo), asked Blanco to produce a song for their Christmas album.
Here is the jist of the song: A little boy is traveling on a donkey to Bélen (Bethlehem) to see Jesus. Along the way, the excited little boy encourages his donkey to hurry up with the infamous tuki tuki tuki tuki. (Other arguments suggest that the tuki tuki is actually the sound of the donkey’s hooves.) Find the full translation here.
Blanco originally selected singer Simón Diaz as the singer on the track, but the song sort of flopped. The next year, in 1976, Blanco re-recorded the song with 14 children from the Venezuelan Children’s Choir, which he renamed La Rondallita.
Who is that little boy?
The lead singer, the voice you hear on the track today, was an 8-year-old boy named Ricardo Cuenci.
The song was a hit, not only in Venezuela, but all over Latin America, from Chile to Mexico. As Blanco and La Rondallita embarked on a national and international tour, Cuenci got kicked to the curb and another little boy got bumped up to lead singer.
Blanco said Cuenci’s voice changed too much after the recording. Cuenci’s father and Blanco later got into a fight before any royalties could be agreed on, and Cuenci still has not seen a single cent from his contributions to the song, according to an interview he did with Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper.
In 2006 El Tiempo found the 40-year-old Cuenci living in eastern Venezuela working at a piping factory and as a blacksmith, struggling to support six kids. He had been sent to jail twice. When he spoke to El Tiempo, he said he simply wanted to be acknowledged.
“No one has ever called me to know about me as a singer,” he told El Tiempo. “I wanted to go on television and say ‘El Burrito Sabanero’ does exist. I wish people knew that, I am a good-hearted man.”
As Cuenci aged in obscurity, the song – and his voice – became a Christmas staple all over the region.
It was even remixed by Colombian heartthrob Juanes.
And American bachata babes Aventura.
Obviously here in Miami it made its way up to DJ Laz, who put out this remix.
That version got remixed again by local producer A.T. Molina.
Power 96 hired Molina in the late 1990s to freshen up the track. “I arranged and produced it … and it took fire with the station. It got played every year,” Molina said.
This is one of the versions that plays on Power 96.
Now, it’s like clockwork, Molina says. When this song hits the airwaves at Christmas time, he gets calls from tons of old friends.
“People who don’t ever call me throughout the year end up calling me to tell me they’re thinking of me,” he laughed.
Lopez says the requests for El Burrito go on all December long.
“You’d be surprised, it’s not just some little kid who lives in Hialeah. It’s all kinds of people — everyone calls for the song. It’s one of those songs you listen to it and cringe but can’t help but laugh.”
“It means Christmas has finally arrived to the 305.”
What are your memories with El Burrito Sabanero? Let us know.