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The Great Chavela Vargas, Dead At 93

Posted by Gomez Comes Alive!, August 6, 2012 08:01am | Post a Comment
Chavela VargasA few weeks back, while browsing the Queens collection, a private LP collection recently purchased and currently being sold at Amoeba Hollywood, I noticed several Chavela Vargas LPs were a part of it. At this point, I am pairing down my music to the bare necessities. When I see vinyl that I want to buy, I ask myself first, will I listen to it or will it sit in the shelf? Can I play it at a club or on my radio show, Discos Inmigrantes? If not, I don’t buy it.

After a few days of the collection being on sale, with some of the better international vinyl long gone in the selves of various record collectors, the Chavela Vargas records were still in the bins. I saw it as a sign. I had to get them. The day I bought them I had my radio show. I didn’t get to play the records on air, but I played one of the records as I was preparing for the show. Instantly as soon I dropped the needle on the recent purchase, I was glad I went back and bought the Chavela Vargas LPs.

As you read the various obituaries about Chavela Vargas, you will read the same facts. That she was a great interpreter of Mexico’s ranchera music. That she was contemporaries of many Mexican legends, including Jose Alfredo Jimenez, Augustin Lara, Diego Rivera and of course, Frida Kahlo, who she was rumored to have an affair with. That she was overtly gay but not out. She often dressed in men’s clothing and her sexuality was a secret that everyone seem to know. When she finally came out in 2000, it was an afterthought. She lived rough for a while, which only added to the pain in her voice. She recorded over 80 albums, dropped out during the mid-seventies only to have resurgence in the 1990’s, thanks to being included in a few Pedro Almodovar films as well as the movie, Frida. Recently, Spanish singer Concha Buika teamed up with Chucho Valdez to make a tribute album to Chavela called, El Ultimo Trago, in which Buika credits Vargas for teaching her how to "make a monument out of loneliness."

As I sat alone listening to Chavela version of “Volver, Volver” backed only with the solo guitar of  Antonio Bribiesca, I thought of Buika quote. I had read in an interview back when El Ultimo Trago was released in 2010. I remember thinking that the quote captured the essence of Chavela Vargas’ music. Some people say when they hear great Mexican music that they want to have a drink. But it’s usually in a group setting. It's either sharing a bottle of Tequila or a round of Margaritas. Even if there are tears flowing from your cheeks as you remember past lost loves, in that setting, you have your friends to commiserate with. That is not Chavela’s music. You listen to Chavela’s music alone. It’s music you listen to when you sit alone at the end of a bar, far from the others. It’s music you play alone in your apartment at 3 am. It’s music you listen to after heartbreak and personally, the only company I think you should you commiserate with is a bottle, period.  It’s blues music, albeit Mexican blues music, but still, blues music. Chavela just didn’t make monuments out of loneliness, she created universes out of it.



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Mexico (21), Buika (2), Chavela Varga (1), Death (25)