The Enduring, & Mysterious, Legacy of ‘Mamacita’ 

Catherine A. Jones
 | December 11, 2023

Before Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Jose Feliciano bursted on the holiday scene with his bilingual christmas classic “Feliz Navidad,” there was Augie Rios and his holiday hit “Mamacita (¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?).”

And, thanks to business giant Amazon, “Mamacita” – which reached 47 of the Billboard charts back in 1958 upon its release  – is once again in the spotlight this holiday season.

Debuting less than two weeks ago, on Cyber Monday, Amazon features Mamacita and a funny llama in its new official ad for the 2023 season, titled “Lllamacita.”

“After all, the ad is just perfect: the animal’s hilarious face will remain memorable in our memory while they dance under a catchy background song,” Carlo Affatigato writes for the website Auralcrave. “ … the risk, from now on, is that we will forever associate the song with the llama’s face,” Affatiagato adds.

He’s spot on. The song’s familiar, bilingual, and fun. 

But it’s left a lot of us asking: what’s the story behind that song?

A Boy and his “Mamacita” Legacy

The year was 1958, and a then 12-year-old sensation, Augie Rios, the son of Puerto Rican parents, graced the airwaves with a delightful Christmas tune.

“¿Dónde Está Santa Claus?” arrived on the scene, riding the A side of a 45 RPM Speed Vinyl Record, offering Spanish-infused lyrics that captured the hearts of listeners. 

“It’s got a nice theme and a Latin beat with a lovely choral accompaniment,” The Philadelphia Enquirer reported at the time of the song’s release.

Rios was a child actor who went on to appear in Broadway musicals, including Jamaica, with Superstars Ricardo Montalban and Lena Horne. He stayed on with MGM records and was a teen rock ‘n’ roll star with songs like “Hop, Skip, Jump” and “Augie Stay Home,” and “I’ve Got a Girl” with Shelly Records.

Rios’ Christmas song’s origin story, however, is veiled in a bit of mystery. Some credit the songwriting trio of George Scheck, Rod Parker, and Al Greiner, while others attribute its creation to Rodolfo “Rudy” Granados, Sr., a Puerto Rican songwriter. 

“Granados, who grew up in East Los Angeles and spoke both languages, wrote the song as a tribute to the Latino community,” Jennifer Bell says in her article for OldTimeMusic.

Recorded with the Mark Jeffrey Orchestra, for MGM Records, the song tells the story of a child eagerly awaiting Santa Claus on Christmas Eve with clever lyrics including:

¿Mamacita (ooh), donde esta Santa Claus? (ooh)
¡Oh! ¿Where is Santa Claus? (Ooh)
It’s Christmas Eve (ooh)
I know that I should be, the sleeping
But maybe he’s not far away
So, out of the window I’m peeping
Hoping to see him in sleigh (ooh)

Rios’s rendition peaked at 47 on the charts, marking a significant milestone in his career. Over the years, the song found new life through various covers by renowned artists such as Charo, Celia Cruz, Los Lobos, and Cheech Marin of Cheech and Chong fame. 

“ … in the 60’s, The Thomas Sisters recorded what is now my favorite version. It is harder to find, though: It’s not on Spotify and keeps getting removed from YouTube,” Brian Ferrari explains.

Fast forward to 2023, and the song once again takes center stage, courtesy of a retail giant.

Amazon’s clever marketing strategy revived “Mamacita” in their 2023 holiday advertisement, aptly titled “Lllamacita.” The ad has an infectious charm, featuring a whimsical llama dancing to the familiar beats.

The commercial is gaining traction after Amazon’s holiday hit “Joy Ride” ad, featuring The Beatles “In My Life,” “recorded by a 40-piece orchestra in Prague and an old upright piano in London,” according to an ad industry website.

New and old fans of Rios’ classic can download or stream Mamacita on Amazon for free.

The Best of “Mamacita”: From Zumba to Salsa

Here are our top 8 favorite versions of “Mamacita,” sung by Latin America’s biggest stars:

The all Spanish version of the song performed by Chabelo and the Gustavo Pimentel Orchestra in 1968.

Charo’s Disco version of the classic, from 1978

This Spanish version by Tatiana has over 1 million views on YouTube

Cheech Marin attempts to sing the song on Cheech and Chong’s 1971 album Santa Claus And His Old Lady

Los Lobos give “Mamacita” their own makeover with a live performance in 2019, “Live from Here with Chris Thile”

Here’s a rare recording of Celia Cruz singing a salsa-infused version of Mamacita ¿Dondé esta Santa Claus?

This Zumba class from 2015 moves to A.B. QUINTANILLA 3 and Kumbia All Stars’ Urbano Latino mix of the song.

Special Note: The following YouTube video may be an older Augie Rios singing the song one final time:

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