Chavela Vargas, 1919 – 2012

Image by Ali Cavanaugh, New York Times

There’s a wonderful tribute to Chavela Vargas in the New York Times Magazine:

With just a guitar and her voice, Vargas performed in a red poncho and pants at a time when Mexican women didn’t wear pants. She sang with arms open wide like a priest celebrating Mass, modeling her singing on the women of the Mexican revolution. “A mexicana is a very strong woman,” Vargas said, “Starting with la Adelita, la Valentina — mujeres muy mujeres.” Chavela Vargas belonged to this category of women-very-much women.

Even when Vargas was young and her voice still as transparent as mezcal, she danced with her lyrics tacuachito-style, cheek to cheek, pounded them on the bar, made them jump like dice, spat and hissed and purred like the woman jaguar she claimed to be and finished with a volley that entered the heart like a round of bullets from the pistol she stashed in her belt.

“She was chile verde,” remembers Elena Poniatowska, the grande dame of Mexican letters.

Vargas lived and sang a lo macho. She sang love songs written for men to sing without changing the pronouns.

Read it in full here, and check a performance of the song for which she’s probably best known, Macorina, below.


Chavela Vargas, 1919 – 2012