Friday, September 13, 2013

Chavela Vargas

For many of us the mere mention of Mexican music evokes some negative emotions. We're just trying to enjoy our sizzling fajitas and table-side guacamole in peace, yet an uninvited serenade of Mariachi gives us the heartburn we hoped to avoid. Thankfully Mexico has a rich musical catalog far beyond Mariachi. I would like to introduce you to whom I believe is the soul of Mexican music, singer Chavela Vargas.

The long life Vargas led reads like a great novel. She was born in Costa Rica in 1919, yet became the voice of Mexico. She often dressed as a man and smoked cigars. Traveled in artistic circles with the likes of artist Diego Rivera and singer Jose Jimenez. She claims to have had an affair with Rivera's wife, the great Frida Kahlo. She disappeared from performing in the late 70's due to her alcohol addiction, but then returned in the early 90's. She died at age 93 in 2012.

Much of her music focused on the Ranchera genre, which is a vocal accompanied by a guitar. Simple, but not simplistic. In the early years, her voice was smooth and sinful like a fine Bordeaux, but as life took it's toll it evolved into a bottom shelf Rusty Nail, (that's Scotch & Drambuie for you teetotalers). Her later work is incredibly haunting. When she sings a song at 88 she once performed at 30, it now carries all the baggage of an artists life. Even if you barely managed a C in your high school Spanish class, you'll understand the song's message. I chose to start and end the playlist with the tragic folk song La Llorona. Take note to the drastically different moods between the early and later performances.

So as Summer disappears I'll open a Corona, close my eyes, and let her music transport me to some small village in the Yucatan. I hope her music will transport you too.

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