Christopher Sluka is usually known for his serious, highly technical, expertly composed orchestral work with a hint of synth, but his newest effort is anything but serious. Unless you’re from Mexico or the American Southwest, that is. Those of us living anywhere from Colorado to Baja California know just how important tamales are year-round, not to mention Christmas. Now, “Christmas Tamales” is the anthem to the corn-based parcels we always needed for the season, thanks to Sluka and his band, the aptly named SLUKA.
The lore of the tamale is vast and varied, its origins dating back millennia to Mesoamerican cultures but their current form, which inspired Sluka’s rousing Christmas ode, are still very much a staple wherever one might find a large Hispanic culture. Made of a corn masa base and wrapped usually in corn husks (in Southern Mexican and Central American areas, banana leaves are also a possible choice), they vary in terms of their flavor and filling. Traditional savory choices are usually chicken or pork with some sort of mole (sauce), but there are veggie green chile varieties as well as loads of sweet options with white corn and filled with raisins, pineapples of mangoes.
In Southern California where Sluka likely discovered the traditional pocket food, tamales are available all year long at restaurants, taco trucks and even at many places of business, where industrious home cooks will sell them to hungry workers. These homemade, fresh tamales are considered the best ones among SoCal residents in the know; until Christmas, of course, when loads of abuelas from all different regions and will all different recipes get out their big pots and start to make them for family and friends. The Christmas tamale-giving season usually starts right after Thanksgiving (with delicious turkey tamales making an appearance, of course) and lasts through the New Year. Anyone lucky to be a family member, friend or neighbor to someone who makes tamales knows truly how magical they are, and it’s clear this is the type of tamale about which Sluka and his band are singing their praises.
The song itself is much more lighthearted and fun than SLUKA’s usual work, which tends to be dense, emotive and complex. Clearly intended at least partially for kids, “Christmas Tamales” is joyful song, easy to sing along to with pretty simple lyrics, almost like a Christmas Carol. It’s still got that SLUKA flare, however, with loads of warm, ambient sound design and synth supporting the well-composed and produced music. Sluka’s vocals themselves are booming and jovial with just a touch of cheek, sort of like Jack Black’s in Tenacious D songs. A perfect carol to everyone’s favorite Christmas food in Mexico and the American Southwest.
Sluka and his team also created an equally fun and family-forward animated video for “Christmas Tamales” using AI made by SLUKA bass player, Anna Eppink. The video is a wild ride through a Christmas wonderland where yetis shop for and prepare the Christmas tamales. Tamales also dance in the sky as the band play the song. Whimsical, festive and kind of trippy, it’s what one would expect if SLUKA did a Christmas video.
While there are likely other songs about the Christmas tamale tradition, this one done with such gusto and fun means “Christmas Tamales” could be an instant classic. With nearly 200k views on the YouTube video already and 30k streams on Spotify, it’s well on its way to becoming a household holiday song and it’s a great way to tease SLUKA’s upcoming album.