‘TIS THE SEASON FOR LA MURGA


When I originally wrote about “La Murga De Panama” back in 2006, I naively wrote “I find it rather funny that such a rousing Latin dance anthem would have originally appeared on a Christmas album.”

Well, maybe I should have bothered to research the song itself since, if you understand “La Murga” in connection with Carnival, it makes total sense to put it on a holiday album (provided, Carnival is after Xmas but it’s most certainly a massive holiday/festival season during the winter, throughout South America). Murga seems largely associated with Uruguay or Argentina but given the popularity of Colon/Lavoe’s song, I’d wager that most folks outside of South American just assume it’s a uniquely Panamanian connection.

Given the distinctiveness of “La Murga,” especially its opening, it’s one of those songs that I’ll pretty much cop any cover of since, odds are, it’s going to be pretty good.* After all, how can you possibly go wrong with a song that has as tremendous an opening as “La Murga”? Best use of trombones. Ever.

Anyways, I’m up to at least six covers (not including the OG) and I pulled out four of them to share, plus the OG, natch.**

Willie Colon feat. Hector Lavoe: La Murga
From Asalto Navideño (Fania, 1971)

Los Melodicos: La Murga De Panama
From 7″ (Discolando, 197?)

Niko Estrada y su Sonora: La Murga De Panama
From 7″ (Mag, 197?)

Lisandro Meza: La Murga De Panama
From La Suegra (Eco, 1990)

Francisco Zapata: La Murga
From Los Z de Francisco Zapata (197?)

The Los Melodicos and Niko Estrada are the most “loyal” of the covers here in terms of approximating the original; the Estrada (which really goes big with those trombones) even includes the piano playing counterpoint, just like the Colon OG. The Melodicos are more stripped down – no piano on the intro and a very sparse arrangement overall but I like how clean it is (the use of female back-ups is nice too).

Meza’s takes “La Murga” into more obvious cumbia territory, especially in replacing the trombones with accordion but otherwise, it’s as sparse as the Melodicos, stripping the song to its barest elements – the main melodic riff and the lyrics. In contrast, Zapata’s practically goes big band with it, bringing in some organ, a more prominent use of guitar and a fuller percussion section. It’s obviously the same song but takes “La Murga” into a different sonic realm compared to its peers.

If folks know of other solid covers of the song, please drop a link the comments. I welcome more more more!

*Note: There’s not that many songs where I say you can safely say that about but if I had to pick two other ones, what immediately comes to mind is this and this. If there any bad covers of these songs, I’d sure like to know.

**The two covers I didn’t include are Cal Tjader’s version from Primo and Papa Brandao’s version that was featured on Panama 2.

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