Friday, August 10, 2012

Chavela Vargas [1919-2012]

Artist: Chavela Vargas
LP: Noche Bohemia
Song: "La China"
[ listen ]

The first time I heard Chavela Vargas was when I saw Pedro Almodovar's film, LA FLOR DE MI SECRETO in 1995. I was captivated by her gravely voice and the raw emotion conveyed through her singing. Sadly, Chavela (or sometimes "Chabela," it seems) died earlier this week; she was 93 years old. Born in 1919 in Costa Rica, Chavela fled to Mexico City when she was 14 years old. Known for wearing men's clothing, smoking cigars, and packing heat, Chavela became a fixture in the city's vibrant bohemian nightlife of the 1950s and '60s. She disappeared from public life in the 1970s and '80s, drifting through a 15-year alcoholic haze somewhere in the state of Morelos. Nursed back to health through the kindness of strangers, Chavela rose to international stardom again in the 1990s, due to vigorous promotion by the aforementioned Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, who considered Chavela his muse. Ms. Vargas declared her lesbianism publicly in the year 2000--when she was 81 years old. "I was born this way. Since I opened my eyes to the world, I have never slept with a man. Never. Just imagine what purity. I have nothing to be ashamed of," she told a Spanish newspaper. You can read all about the life and career of Chavela Vargas here, find her New York Times obituary here, and go here to read a nice piece about the singer in the Los Angeles Times. Spanish and English liner notes from the back of the 1961 "Noche Bohemia" LP are included below, along with a clip of Chavela performing in an "exclusive Mexican bohemian nightclub" in 1968.

Chavela Vargas on YouTube:

Chavela Vargas
[April 17, 1919 — August 5, 2012]
We will miss you, Chavela.

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