Sing Your Heart Out: Chavela Vargas!

Chavela Vargas photo: cuartoscuro

Sing Your Heart Out: Chavela Vargas

In a recent post on this site entitled “La Rancherita”, Churpa included a rather offhanded link to a YouTube video of  Freddy Fender’s smash hit, Rancho Grande.  (Look carefully for the link buried in her phrase, “…without thinking of this….”)

Churpa added that Fender’s song was “possibly one of my favorite songs ever”.

Well, this is just the sort of provocative waffling that I simply can’t tolerate, especially in a website with standards-of-excellence as high as ours.  What’s it going to be, Churpa: is Fender’s version of Rancho Grande one of your all-time favorites or not?  Or do you prefer something from The Tijuana Brass instead?

Frankly, I see this casual treatment of a legendary singer as a challenge to all People’s Guide lovers of Mexican music.  It is high time that we declare our favorite singers and songs — and no more messing about with vague commitments like “possibly” and “perhaps”.

Which brings me straight to Chavela Vargas, who just happens to be right near the top of my all-time favorite singers and song writers.  (The absolute top spot will be revealed in due course. I should warn you, however, that my favorite singer is almost certainly better than all others.)

You can read a good summary of Chavela’s remarkable career on Wikipedia. What isn’t included in that article is her most recent triumph:  this week, at age 94, Chavela Vargas presented her latest work in Tepotzlan, a tribute to Federico García Lorca.

Here she is, performing the song written for Frida Kahlo, supposedly Chavela’s former lover.

La Llorona by Chavela Vargas

17 Responses to “Sing Your Heart Out: Chavela Vargas!”

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  1. -El Codo- says:

    This is a rough translation of the first few stanzas of la llorona…

    “Ever away from seeing more than life
    The morning lies miles away from the night
    No man ever could steal her heart
    But With bright gold coins I’ll take my shot

    And all it takes to fall
    If you don’t walk, might as well crawl

    All it takes to fall
    What a quiet world after all
    Of the things that you guessed will come
    What a moment it was after all

  2. Churpa says:

    Carl, I don’t think you understand the incredible weight of the phrase ‘one of my favorite songs ever’, particularly when it is uttered by a serious music aficionado such as yours truly. Have you seen the entire room in my cramped four room shack that has been allocated to records? If you really want me to commit to saying that Fender’s version of “Rancho Grande” is one of my favorite songs ever, I think we need to establish exactly how many favorite songs one is allowed to have. I mean, are we talking top 30 or top 10 or top 3? This is a serious matter.

  3. Churpa says:

    That Chavela Vargas link is amazing. I have never heard it, which just goes to show that even a ‘serious music aficionado’ is never quite there.

  4. Carl Franz says:

    Churpa, it is universally accepted by music-philes that favorites are classified as Top Ten. However, as this is The People’s Guide To Mexico, we actually crank it up a notch, in tribute to one of our all-time favorite movies, and our list of favorites tops out, so to speak, at 11. In other words: The People’s Guide to Mexico Top Eleven.

    • churpa says:

      All right. Now that we have these guidelines established, we can get to work. It’s too deep thinking is so taxing. Someone should bring us a round of tacos while we contemplate this. Lorena?

  5. Fred Shumate says:

    Carl is correct in wishing a Chavela Vargas tune be included in “11 mas Alta” (but which one) and Churpa’s “Alla en Rancho Grande” might be at the top of everyones list. I love the challenge of creating a Top 11, but due to the volume of so many great songs and the angst of choosing only 11, I am respectfully requesting some further guidelines:

    * Must the songs be written by a Mexican author.
    * Are you suggesting not just favorite songs, but favorite versions of said song.
    * Are we talking Old School, the Classics of would a contemporary Banda classic fit in.
    * Should the songs be only those of Mexican form or style: Ranchero, Mariachi, Jarochos

    I am not familiar with Freddy Fender’s version of “Rancho Grande” (will look to correct that) but do know many, many others – I love Freddy and a favorite of mine is his version of “Corina, Corina” – but, think of him as a Tejano singer. Which might lead one to think of their favorite Santana song….not “Oye Como Va” written by Tito Puente, Nuyorican timbalero, from Harlem, N.Y.; yet, covered by every Mexican band I have heard recently and somewhat of a Latino multi-national anthem.

    I have a neat CD titled “Folk Songs & Ballads From Mexico” from ARC Records, Great Britain, which includes some of my favorite songs of all time; many great songs one might hear played by just about any musician or group in Mexico: “Piel Canela” by Bobby Capo from Puerto Rico; “Quizas, Quizas” by Osvaldo Farres from Cuba (a Mexican musician friend once insisted to me, that the song “Quizas” was a classic Mexican Bolero, and was disdainful and dismissive, when I mentioned Osvaldo Farres, was from Cuba); “Capullito de Aleli” by Rafael Hernandez born in Puerto Rico, raised in Spanish Harlem, N.Y., recognized by many as the greatest of all Puerto Rican composers (he is also known for popularizing, in the 1930’s, the version or arrangement of the Mexican traditional song “El Jarabe Tapatio/Mexican Hat Dance” we are all familiar with). Or, since I personally have a serious “Cumbia Jones” or habit, would I include “Mi Cucu” by Lucho Argain y Sonora Dinamita (Lucho is from Columbia but spent his last fifty years in his adopted home of Mexico due to the Mexican people’s passion for the Cumbia)? Then there is Beny More with the Perez Prado Orquestra (both Cuban’s) whose first hits “Pachito E-Che” and “Bonito y Sabrosos” were recorded in Mexico, first became popular in Mexico – even today, most Mexican municipal bands still play “Mambo #5” to everyones enjoyment.
    You see where I’m going with this? OK, I will shut up and try my first draft at “11 mas Alta” but will save the versions for later.
    Not necessarily in this order:
    1. Alla en Rancho Grande
    2. Camino de Guanajuato
    3. La Cucaracha
    4. Guadalajara
    5. La Bamba
    6. Cielito Lindo
    7. La LLorna
    8. Cu Cu Ru Cu Cu, Paloma
    9. Ojitos Verdes
    10. Hoja Seca
    11. Solamente una Vez

    I must quit for now, and have just decided, the choosing of only eleven of the greatest Mexican songs, is an impossible task. The total must be increased! I could spend hours deleting some and inserting others with only the assurance being crazy, at the end. Please, provide further direction and guidelines (or not)? Thanks for the opportunity to have a little fun! “Peoples Guide to Mexico” is NUMERO UNO on the list of “11 Best Travel Guides” of all time, of all places. Su Socio, Fred

    • Carl Franz says:

      Hola Fred: ok, here’s the ultimate guideline, the Golden Rule, the inflexible essential parameter for your Top 11. To qualify for the list a song must be in Spanish, or some reasonable facsimile of Spanish (if performed by musical chipmunks, for example).

      Fred, I think you’ve described a wonderful selection of music but you’re waffling, amigo, on that crucial final selection for your Top 11. That won’t do.

      To help you make those painfully wonderful choices, imagine that you are to be banished to a desert island with your iPod — a rare model with a capacity of just 5 megabytes. Better yet, imagine that you will be banished from Mexico and have to live in Podunk, U.S.A. You only have time to grab 11 of your favorite songs before the bus leaves.

      ¡Andale, Fred! Time’s awasting!

    • churpa says:

      Fred, great list! I am not sure I am willing to swear that Fender’s version of “Alla en el Rancho Grande” is the best either. I will clearly have to get out copies of all the versions I have on hand and listen to them one after the other. Which brings me to my point. Though I do appreciate Fred’s list for its concise elegance, it seems to me that the list should include the specific version of the song in question.

    • Doowad Jones says:

      It is número uno en mi lista…

  6. Doowad Jones says:

    A friend just asked me for a few typical Mexican songs for a Cinco de Mayo event he is djing in upstate NY. I made a raw list of 40, here are the classics for me, including my favorite Mexican song at the top:

    Jorge Negrete – Me he de comer esa tuna
    Trío Calaveras – No soy monedita de oro
    Any mariachi – Guadalajara
    Antonio Bribiesca – La Cucaracha
    Chavela Vargas – Un Mundo Raro
    Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán – El Viajero
    Los Alegres De Teran – Caminos De Guanajuato
    Pedro Infante – Copa tras copa
    Javier Solis – La media vuelta
    Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán – Cielito Lindo
    Antonio Aguilar – Copitas De Mezcal
    Agustín Lara – Arráncame la vida
    Pedro Infante – Amorcito corazón
    Tin Tan con Marcelino – Los Agachados
    Cuco Sanchez – Cancion Mixteca
    Trio Los Panchos – Me Voy Pa’L Pueblo
    Rocío Dúrcal – Si Nos Dejan
    Vicente Fernandez (o Antonio Aguilar) – El rey

    But the music of the last 20-30 years has been equally great:

    Caifanes – Aquí no es así
    Cafe Tacuba – Chilanga Banda
    Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio – Lo Pasado Pasado
    Lila Downs – La Cumbia del Mole
    Julieta Venegas – Jaula de oro
    Molotov – Frijolero
    Jaguares – Detrás de los cerros
    Control Machete – Si Señor
    Botellita de Jerez – Laberinto de la soledad

    And as those last guys said, Botellita de Jerez, lo naco es chido, let’s throw these in the mix to boot:
    Juan Gabriel – Ases y Tercia De Reyes
    Los Tigres Del Norte – De harina y de maíz
    Estela Nuñez – La Ley del Monte
    Banda el Recodo con Lola Beltrán – Tristes recuerdos

    Cheers, I am in St. Louis, but consider myself an expatriate temporarily living back in the country I grew up in (I was born in Panama and lived 10 years in Mexico). Your book followed me all over Mexico and kept my soul warm as I was back in the states finishing my degree 20 years ago.


    • Carl Franz says:

      Doowad, that’s a great selection of music, worthy of being turned into a Playlist on my iPod. But, you have not committed yourself yet to a Top 11, so please don’t stop here; press your nose to the turntable and give us your all-time favorites, por’fa!

      • Doowad Jones says:

        I am “do-it-all” doowad, so moderation is not my onda, but well, if you, the man himslef, twist my proverbial arm, I will have to pick from the all-time classics, with a few moderations:

        Jorge Negrete – Me he de comer esa tuna
        Antonio Bribiesca – La Cucaracha
        Chavela Vargas – Un Mundo Raro
        Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán – El Viajero
        Los Alegres De Teran – Caminos De Guanajuato
        Jorge Negrete – México lindo y querido
        Javier Solis – La media vuelta
        Agustín Lara – Arráncame la vida
        Cuco Sanchez – Cama de piedra
        Antonio Aguilar – El rey

        And for 11, even though a good ole gringo friend of mine used to say Infante was for the abuelitas lloronas, let’s go with:

        Pedro Infante – Amorcito Corazón

        In honor of my wife’s blind abuelito who used to sing that song whenever he was feeling sentimental…

        Cheers and salud, compadre!


        • churpa says:

          Doowad–Thanks for this great list. I am listening through it. I love the Bribiesca version of La Cucaracha. Like most great music, it somehow evokes happiness and sadness at the same time. Which, come to think of it, sort of sums up the Mexican condition.

      • churpa says:

        Carl? What is this about a Top 11? Get out of the hammock and put your money where your mouth is!

  7. psoriasis says:

    Today, I went to the beachfront with my children.
    I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter
    and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the
    shell to her ear and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside and it pinched her
    ear. She never wants to go back! LoL I know this is totally off topic but I had to tell someone!