La Chamana – A Tribute to Chavela Vargas

Earlier this month one of Mexico’s most notorious and loved musicians Chavela Vargas passed away at the age of 93. Film maker and soul mate Pedro Almodovar described Vargas as “the rough voice of tenderness” and her drawling, sadness soaked ranchera renditions made her one of the country’s most unique voices.

She also became renowned for her fearless breaches of taboo subjects in 40s and 50s Mexico (singing love songs about women, wearing trousers, carrying a loaded pistol and crediting her recovery from polio to shamans) and heavy bouts of drinking, accompanied by fellow ranchera composer and singer José Alfredo Jiménez. Despite not declaring herself a lesbian until the age of 81, her music was adopted by Mexico’s gay and lesbian community and she went on to become one of the country’s most legendary figures and singers. You can find a short but well written obituary on Chavela Vargas from The Guardian.

In celebration of la chamana‘s life and music, a group of artists have recorded and released their own tribute to the singer. The whole album 21 songs (or 40 with the extras) is available for free download here. For those who, like me, are new to Vargas’ extensive work (over 80 albums!) this is a great introduction to one of Latin America’s great singers. Or you could also watch a few Almodovar films…

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