In this time of the year, we hear lots of Christmas songs. There’s one song in particular that I’ve come to enjoy hearing around Christmas, though at one time I never thought this would be possible. The song is “Navidad Sin Ti” by the Ranchera music group (essentially country music in Spanish) Los Bukis.
A bit of background first: On my mission, the missionaries (and everyone else) rode everywhere in crowded, smelly, rickety, highly unsafe buses. The buses almost invariably played musica ranchera, at a very high volume, for the entire trip. (Rusty and danithew can back me up on this).
Some of the music (Selena, for example, the singer who was famously killed several years ago) was tolerable or even good. But most of it was monotonous and tedious, or worse. (One popular style was to use a lead singer who sort of screech-howled. The resulting music was characterized by the elders as “he sounds like he has a bad stomachache.”) In addition to its dubious musical quality, much of the ranchera repertory was about getting drunk and/or commiting fornication and/or adultery. Of course, we tended to tolerate such lyrics in music we liked — almost all of the missionaries liked the Mexican rock group Mana — but the questionable lyrics only added to the general animosity that almost all of the gringo elders felt towards the entire rachera genre.
Los Bukis were among the great hitmakers in musica ranchera. Their songs were played endlessly. Often, the bus driver would just pop in a tape, and the tape would play (front side, back side, then front side again) as the bus drove for two or three hours or more. And so, from early in my mission, I came to greatly dislike Los Bukis.
And then Cristmas came. I don’t recall noticing much of the music my first Christmas there (when I was still learning the language). But by my second Christmas, my Spanish was good, I knew what music I liked, and I heard a very popular Christmas song being played everywhere I went. It was called “Navidad Sin Ti” — Christmas Without You. And I liked it. The song’s chorus is a sad, slightly soaring ballad, and the lyrics match the sad tone perfectly:
Llega navidad y yo sin tÃ
En esta soledad, recuerdo el dÃa que te perdÃ
No se en donde estes pero en verdad
Por tu felicidad hoy brindo en esta navidad. . .
(Christmas comes, and I’m without you
All alone, I think to the day that I lost you
I don’t know where you are, but it’s true
That this Christmas, I’m toasting to your happiness
The music was catchy and singable, and I liked the selfless nature of the story — The singer has lost the woman he loves, but he’s still wishing the best for her. The song was a perfect fit for Christmas.
I was, of course, surprised to discover that the song was by the group that I had learned to hate — Los Bukis. I had a brief moment of horror — I had actually enjoyed listening to a song by Los Bukis. But the more I thought about it, the more my reaction changed. I had been awfully prideful, looking down on the group and on the entire musical genre. It was easy for me to judge the music, to think that it was all drivel, that I was cultured enough to realize this and others weren’t. But in the end, one of the songs really seemed to work.
I’ll never be a big fan of the group or the genre. But I can appreciate that a group with limited talent, in a more or less musically barren genre, can still create a beautiful song. And if anyone is looking for a ranchera Christmas ballad that’s surprisingly good, I recommend Navidad Sin Ti. (It’s available in a large number of collections, including their Greatest Hits.)