Charo: KCRW Guest DJ set

Written by Marion Hodges

Yes we can, can, can! Pictured L to R: Anthony Valadez, Charo, Novena Carmel Photo by Larry Hirshowitz.

Ready your cuchi-cuchis: Charo, the virtuosic guitarist, singer, comedian, actor, and all-around good hang, drops by MBE to share songs and stories… so many stories: from her upbringing in Murcia, Spain to the post-midnight phone calls she received from her good pal Elvis Presley (casual). She shares her favorite Elvis song, “Suspicious Minds”; the song that best defines her life’s journey (“queen” Donna Summer’s “She Works Hard for the Money),” and the Queen Liliukolani song that makes her nostalgic for her time spent living in Hawaii. 

Also in tow is her son, Shel Rasten, who stops by to introduce his own song “I’m Going Home.” And Charo’s piece de resistance? “The Macarena.” Rumor has it that she’s the one who created that song’s iconic choreography

Read on for her takes behind each song select, and if you’re seeing this outside of LA (or feel like taking a road trip), you can catch Charo this Monday, May 1 at Carnegie Hall as part of The New York Pops 40th Birthday Gala honoring Bary Manillow, and at Seattle’s Queer/Pride festival on Jun. 23 alongside Peaches, Trixie Matel, La Luz, and more.

The “mamacita of the Macarena” Charo shows us how it’s done at KCRW HQ. Photo by Larry Hirshowitz. 

Charo & Salsoul Orchestra – “Borriquito”

Charo: Okay amigos, when I was a little girl once upon a time, in Murcia, this was a very popular song. It’s a very cute tune about a little donkey like you. It says: 

“You don't know nothing. I'm going to teach you because you don't even know the ABCs.”

And the children love it because it’s so exciting and positive. So when I came to America, to Philadelphia in 1979, I was working a big big event, and I was lucky to work with Vince Montana — the greatest of the great. We needed one more song, and it was one in the morning with the Salsoul Orchestra everybody was drinking beer and having the time of their life. 

I told Vince Montana that when I was a little girl, there was a song called “Borriquito,” I can sing “Borriquito,” and he said, “Okay, why not?” He was drunk too. He told me that he didn’t think people were going to like the lyrics about a little donkey that knows nothing, but I told him, “No, all the children, they love this song.”

So we played it with the Salsoul Orchestra to the people with the money at the event, and then we recorded it, and overnight it was being played everyday around the United States, and then around the world. And it was a very happy moment. Beautiful people, great musicians, the Salsoul Orchestra.

Queen Lili'uokalani  – “Aloha Oe”

One day I decided to go to Hawaii. I closed my house in Beverly Hills, and the whole family moved to an island called Kawaii. If there’s ever one day you don't feel any more happy, and you feel depression is overcoming you, and you need an escape… I highly recommend the island called Kawaii. It is magic. 

I was working in Las Vegas, my son turned five years old and he had no children to play with. The other guests were George Burns, Siegfried & Roy, and Dean Martin. The kids were looking to all of these guys growing up. 

George Burns asked Shel [Charo’s son] how old he was, and Shel said, “I'm five.” And he gave him a cigar and told him to smoke it when he was 18. That night, when the party was over, my husband and I decided that we didn’t want Shel growing up going from town to town, and that he’d grow up to write the book called “Cuchi-cuchi Dearest.” We are going to stop this kind of life, and go to Hawaii. 

I love Hawaii in Hawaii with passion. The story of this incredible Queen Lili'uokalani is so beautiful. Aloha means I give you my air. When they say aloha, it’s like I can't believe you are no more, but my energy, my air is with you. It’s the most beautiful place in the world to raise children. No discrimination. They call it the melting pot, the happiest years of my life were there.

And this song means a lot to millions of people, they know it around the world. And it was written by the queen. She was imprisoned at home, but she could look through a window to see a young couple kissing each other. Their love inspired her, and made her think there is a future.

Donna Summer – “She Works Hard For The Money”

“‘She Works Hard For The Money,” because we all work hard for the money and we deserve to enjoy every minute that we have it. I love Donna Summer, she's the queen! She’s the one that started the whole kit and caboodle.

Photos by Larry Hirshowitz

Elvis Presley – “Suspicious Minds”

Elvis was my friend because he was working in the same place that I was working. He was very charming, very different than what people think of his image. Whenever I would go to his show with Johnny Carson, or with any other celebrity, he would dedicate to me, “Suspicious Minds.” I love, love that song!

He used to call me around two or three in the morning. I was working at the hotel Sahara, working and living there. And he would call and say, “I know you like that song… [sings, imitating Elvis Presley] ‘What you doing to me…’” and I would say, “Call in the morning!” And then I’d hang up. He was a very conservative guy, very close to Priscilla. They were a beautiful couple. I don't know what went wrong. 

He used to seem to every day call the Sahara, “Okay, put me on with Charo.” He knows that I'm awake because I’m a night person, and probably he was a night person too. Great person, so unique… once in a life, there will be an Elvis Presley. This thing doesn't happen too often. Very sad story, but he’s in Heaven now, making everybody very happy.

Shel Rasten – “I’m Going Home”

This is my son, who is an excellent musician and singer. I just love this song because it is so inspirational. You want [to go] home. No matter what happens in your life, your adventures… you always want to go home.

And this song is very important for me because, in going home, you want to go back and find out who the hell you are. And he didn’t know how my sister and me felt, but he nailed it down. 

Photo by Larry Hirshowitz

Los Del Rio – “Macarena”

I am the mamacita of ‘Macarena.’ I want to say to everybody that this is the best damn beat for exercise and aerobics. If you’re going to do this dance, stretch and get ready. You’re going to lose 10,000 calories in one minute.

Photo by Larry Hirshowitz

Photo by Larry Hirshowitz





Anna Chang