Last Christmas was dire, with inconsistent government advice, regional lockdowns, and a ban on seeing family. Yet I hope that you all, like me, tried to make the most of it and found the holiday spirit with a few of the staple festive bangers – a bit of Wham, Mariah Carey, Dean Martin, and all the other classics. However, even this didn’t quite fulfil the anticipated Christmas cheer we all have come to expect. It’s no surprise really… Our attempt to gain some semblance of joy from overworked plastic trinkets and fairy lights has always left me feeling dissatisfied and unfulfilled… But hey, that’s just me.
On the night before Christmas, however, I snuggled up to my warm fireplace, mince pie in hand, and demanded “Alexa – shuffle Christmas songs”, hoping that the last piece of the jigsaw would fall into place for the festivities the next day. I suppose Alexa sensed the yearning for something wholesome and delivered a present early, as the insanely talented José Feliciano was gifted to my ears, a blasting of the simple yet passionate ‘Feliz Navidad’ which – 50 years after its initial release – felt like the perfect remedy to end the year. The bilingual guitarist wishes us all a ‘Merry Christmas from the bottom of [his] heart’ and warms the soul with enchanting Latin melodies and catchy lyrics, releasing wholesome waves of hypnotic festivity and uplifts the mood all the way from the depths of Scrooge to the euphoric heights of Will Ferrell’s Elf.
But who is this man who has brought so much festivity to the world? José Feliciano is a blind, Puerto Rican, Grammy-award-winning artist whose musical virtuosity isn’t limited to Christmas hits. Initially finding fame with a cover for ‘Light My Fire’ by The Doors, he’s gone on to release 56 studio albums over a 60 year career, providing latin flair over such American styles as blues, folk and jazz. His unique covers also provide a remarkable dimension to his oeuvre, producing entertaining versions of classics such as Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ and more recently Fleetwood Mac’s hit ‘The Chain’ on his 2020 album Behind This Guitar.
It was ultimately Feliciano’s latin melodies and simple yet direct refrains that proved to be the soulful soundtrack I needed, the one that hit the spot between the cheesy commercial Christmas-pop and festive sincerity. Although one could suggest a lack of substance to a song that has 4 lines over a 3-minute track, Feliciano makes up for the scantness with infectious enthusiasm, his mantra-like insistence convincing you that he truly does ‘wish you a Merry Christmas’.
It is not just his festive hit that stands out as a hallmark of wholesomeness, however. Whether it be his innovative covers, progressive albums or latin singles, his songs display the power of music when it comes from a good place – in this case a 75-year-old Puerto Rican and his guitar. Feliciano embodies an attitude that we should all aspire to, an outward positivity that encourages the prosperity of others and a happiness within ourselves – a type of person that today’s world of polarising turmoil could learn and immeasurably benefit from.