Reviewed by Johan Palme on 5th December, 2015
Possibly because it’s a holiday closely linked to Christianity, tradition and commercialism, Christmas has often been construed as a particularly right-wing phenomenon. One supposedly derided by the left. To many conservatives around the world, it is considered a given fact that Christmas is threatened by an assault from left-of-centre government officials. And there’s certainly been plently of real radical critiques of Christmas. Atheist ones, anti-consumerist ones, intentionally offensive punky ones. That definitely comes across in some music, too, like in Rotary Connection’s marvellously sarcastic holiday album Peace.
And yet, it’s surprisingly easy to find examples of quite the opposite: strong left-wingers who’re deeply invested in Christmas and its traditions. Musicians and folklorists in the folk revival, for instance, were almost universally radical yet have profound appreciation for the rich popular traditions surrounding the holiday. There’s certainly plenty of beautiful folk-tinged Christmas music!
And even futher left, there’s nueva canción, the mainly South American offshoot of that folk revival. Mercedes Sosa, one of its true stand-out stars, released this fantastic Christmas album in 1970, consisting entirely of newly written songs. The movement’s fellow stars crossed national borders to contribute. Daniel Viglietti has written a song. As has Anibal Sampayo.
And, marvellously, Mercedes Sosa is entirely, completely sincere. There’s certainly honest social criticism between the lines – but entirely from regular people’s perspective, juxtaposing the life of the holy family with that of the contemporary poor. Or expressing specifically local pride. And it’s subtle and subversive, a poet’s critique, not an agitator’s or a sneering humorist’s. Whatmore, the record is beautifully orchestrated, really tying on to christmas music traditions as well as folk ones. The love for Christmas is apparent and real throughout. It’s fully a Christmas album and fully a left-wing album, and it lives and breathes it beautifully together.