One of Latin America´s most beloved performers and cut through voices, Chavela Vargas.
And so it is that I have finally decided to write about Latin American music. There are different reasons why I have not done this here before. Firstly because I usually listen to music in English, and also because this is a music video site and I have had more exposure and interest to music videos in English.
But there is also a hidden factor, and that is I am scared. It is such a vast musical universe and unknown to some of our readers, that it is a big responsibility to “introduce” people to Latin American music. There are genres and artists and countries, and past and current and traditional and experimental, native and non-native, good and bad. It is almost infinite, so the criteria I am going to use is the way I have been doing things since MVD started – with the heart.
Chavela Vargas, Las Simples Cosas
Her name was Isabel Vargas Lizano, but to everyone she was Chavela or “La Chamana”. She was a Costa Rican born Mexican singer who was born on April 17th 1919 and died on August 5th 2012. She is most recognized for singing Mexican Rancheras but actually contributed to many different genres of Latin American music in the course of her career. She started busking in the streets when she was 14 (she left Costa Rica then and went to Mexico to follow her singing career) but didn’t become a professional singer until she was in her thirties.
She was authentic and lived by her own rules. She used to dress as a man, smoke cigars, drink heavily and carry a gun and was known in Mexico for being a womanizer, but she only officially came out when she was 81 years old. She is also famous for having had an affair in the 1960´s with famous Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.
La Llorona, Chavela Vargas
The song is based on a legend of a woman said to haunt the valleys of several Latin American countries weeping for her children which she drowned in a state of madness and then committed suicide. Cheery! Your typical romance story… there, that´s some insight into Latin culture jajaja. The song was first made well-known to contemporary audiences in 1993 by Chavela. This particular clip is actually featured on the movie FRIDA. Chavela sang this type of song using only guitar and voice, she often slowed down the tempo of melodies to draw more dramatic tension, the way she pauses between each word gives each verse a particular tone only she can give.
The next song I have chosen is a classic Mexican song written by Fernando Zenaido Maldonado Rivera, although it was made famous by Vicente Fernandez and many people think he wrote it. It is about heartbreak and asking the loved one to “come back”.
Chavela Vargas Volver,volver
Chavela recorded more than 80 albums and had a successful career in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the first half of the 1970s, touring in Mexico, the United States, France, and Spain and was close to many prominent artists and intellectuals of the time, including Juan Rulfo, Agustin Lara and Jose Alfredo Jimenez (famous mexican composers), Diego Rivera and Dolores Olmedo. In the 70´s Chavela retired from performing due to her problems with alcohol. She struggled with her drinking for over 15 years, until she finally recovered.
I heard Chavela for the first time when I was a teenager, but it was in my twenties that she captured my heart. By then, I had had my share of failed relationships and it was one night after a few drinks that I finally got her. She hypnotized me. That roughness in her voice, her way of delivering a song: that´s a woman with a soul, with a story, that´s a friend. She has been a faithful companion ever since, and though I am past my staying out drinking and listening to her music phase, there is a certain feeling only her music can make me revisit again and again.
Before her death, Chavela was already an established legend and fortunately there were a lot of tributes for her while she was still alive. I personally followed her on Twitter and kept up with her health and was deeply saddened with her last tweet. She believed there was life after death (not in a traditional way) but she believed she was going to transcend into something else, and I think whether she was right or not, she certainly is immortal. I want to finish with a quote by Chavela herself “you don´t say goodbye; you say I love you”.