Larry & Joe celebrate Latingrass music and ‘probably the most famous Christmas song in Spanish in the world’

Larry Bellorín and Joe Troop are on a mission to demonstrate that roots music knows no borders.

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Larry Bellorín (izquierda) y Joe Troop —conocidos como Larry & Joe— lanzan en mayo un nuevo álbum, basado en su repertorio de “Venezuelachia”, una fusión de música folk venezolana y de los Apalaches.

Larry Bellorín (left) and Joe Troop — aka Larry & Joe — will be releasing a new album in May, building on their repertoire of “Venezuelachia,” a fusion of Venezuelan and Appalachian folk music.

Chris Charles

When Larry met his musical ally, it was destiny. 

Born in Venezuela, Larry Bellorín came to the United States eight years ago after building a reputation as a master of música llanera. Joe Troop, a Grammy-nominated bluegrass musician from North Carolina, had returned home after 10 years in Argentina.

Now, as the duo known as Larry & Joe, they’re on a mission to demonstrate that roots music knows no borders. The singer-songwriters perform what they call Latingrass or Venezuelachia — a fusion of Venezuelan and Appalachian folk music on harp, banjo, violin, guitar, bass and “whatever else they decide to throw in the van.”

They’ve also gotten notice for resurrecting a holiday song from Bellorín’s childhood: “My Burrito Sabanero” (“My Little Donkey of the Savannah”). Also known as “El Burrito de Belén,” it tells of a little boy traveling with his donkey to witness the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. The song belongs to a Latin-music genre known as villancicos — which roughly translates as Christmas carols.

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Written by Venezuelan composer Hugo Blanco in 1972, the holiday favorite has become an international phenomenon, with cover versions by Latin music superstars Juanes, Aventura, Banda El Recodo and Elvis Crespo.

But the original hit, recorded in 1975 by a Venezuelan children’s choir called La Rondallita is the best-loved of all.

“It’s probably the most famous Christmas song in Spanish in the world,” Troop said.

La Rondallita’s chirpy original creates a vibe of Alvin and the Chipmunks in Spanish, especially the bridge, with its percussive refrain of “tuki, tuki, tuki, tuki” — which mimics the clomping sound of a donkey’s hooves. Thanks to the piercing voice of lead vocalist Ricardo Cuenci, then 8 years old, the song grew to be an earworm of epic proportions.

For their cover, Larry & Joe “really leaned into the cheesiness,” Troop said. “Larry makes donkey sounds, and I do silly voices. But, on a musical level, there’s some pretty sophisticated stuff happening here. We want to keep the spirit of that song alive.”

Originally a student of the cuatro (a four-stringed guitar), by 13 Bellorín had mastered arpa llanera (Venezuelan harp) and many other stringed instruments. As an adult, he opened a music school and was hailed as “El Maestro Larry Bellorín” by established Venezuelan musicians such as Latin Grammy winner Reynaldo Armas.

“Our statement of purpose as Larry & Joe is passion,” Bellorín said. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak the language. It’s music from the soul. We play our folk music traditions from the heart.”

While in Argentina, Troop had formed the group Che Apalache with two musicians from Argentina and one from Mexico, pairing Appalachian folk with Latin American music including llanera, from the plains regions of Venezuela and Colombia. Bluegrass virtuoso Béla Fleck took notice and produced Che Apalache’s second disc, “Rearrange My Heart” (2019), which got a Grammy nomination for best folk album.

Then, the pandemic happened, and Troop had to leave Argentina. Once home, he got involved in rural organizing initiatives across the country, “which led me down a path of activism,” he said.

A friend noticed parallels between the lives of Troop and Bellorín, who had resettled in Raleigh, N.C.

“Then, I saw videos of Larry, and I couldn’t believe it,” Troop said. “Exactly two years ago, we met, and sparks flew. The alchemy was amazing.”

They have performed 250 concerts across the United States — with a Chicago concert planned for May — and released their first album together, “Nuevo South Train.”

“We feel like we’re like a train where there’s no engineer, we’re not certain where it’s going, but it’s definitely on the tracks,” Troop said. “You wouldn’t think they would mesh well, but the Venezuelan harp and the Appalachian bluegrass banjo seem to be meant for each other.”

Larry & Joe are thankful for their newfound fortune. Troop noted that the Venezuelan diaspora “is very recent, but it’s already having a profound effect. They never wanted to leave their homeland. It basically has been inevitable because of the disaster that is their country. 

“Obviously, our musical partnership is prescient. It’s like a finger on the pulse. It’s what’s happening now. I hope people will come to see us live. We’d love to get them into the same space to experience the cross-cultural joy that we get to live every day.”

Until then, Larry & Joe wish everyone a merry tuki tuki tuki tuki Christmas.

Stream “My Burrito Sabanero” by Larry & Joe on Apple Music at and Spotify at

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