Chavela Vargas (contributed by Sandra Escobar)

If you have ever experienced heartbreak, heartache or longing, Chavela Vargas has a song that will help you heal. Born as Isabel Vargas Lizano on April 17, 1919 and known as ‘Chavela’ in the Mexican and Mexican American communities, her song ‘Paloma Negra’ is sung by many at family gatherings when the bottles have emptied and the singing has commenced. ‘Paloma negra’ translates to ‘black dove’ and is about getting over a lost love and finding the strength to move on.

Desolation and heartbreak are heavy themes in Chavela’s discography. Famous for her unique delivery of traditional, Mexican ranchera music, Chavela came to be a major figure of the LGBTQ community in South America and Spain later in her life, with most of her songs dedicated to the women she loved during her lifetime.

In her song ‘Adoro’ she sings about all of the things she adores about her lover: ‘adoro, el brillo de tus ojos, los dulce, que hay en tus labios rojos…eres mi luna, eres mi sol, eres mi noche de amor’ (I adore, the brightness of your eyes, the sweetness in your red lips…you are my moon, you are my sun, you are my night of love). In ‘Obsession’ she sings about the obsessive nature of falling in love: ‘amor es el pan de la vida, amor es la copa divina, amor es un algo sin nombre, que obsesiona al hombre por una mujar’ (love is the bread of life, love is the divine cup, love is something without a name, an obsession of man for a woman).

In ‘Ojala Que Te Vaya Bonito’ she sings well wishes to the love of her life as she prepares to let them go: ‘ojala que te vaya bonito, ojala que se acaben tus penas, que te digan que yo ya no existo, que conozcas personas mas buenas’ (I hope that things go well for you, I hope you forget your sorrows, that they tell you I no longer exist, that you find better people).

Originally from Costa Rica, Chavela spent many years as a street musician during her youth before becoming a professional singer in her thirties. She was radical and refused to conform to the gender norms of her time. She dressed like a man, smoked cigars, carried a gun, and was known for her characteristic red ‘jorongo’, which she wore in performances until old age.

Chavela gave all of herself in her singing and performances, which is why so many people continue to be drawn to her voice and her music. Singing her songs can feel like therapy.

She died on August 5, 2012 at the age of 93 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, the beloved country she called home.

Song Pick: Paloma Negra

What's Next?

For the next step of your journey, head to the front of the store and visit Shayne.  There is a crate of records there.  Find the WOW record card and scan the QR code with your phone to discover our final amazing musician.  If you would like to learn about our amazing contributor, Sandra, or hear more amazing music from Chavela Vargas, just continue on.

About Sandra Escobar

Sandra is a research scientist and epidemiologist whose work focuses on advocating for the most marginalized communities in Chicago. Originally from Los Angeles, Sandra’s love for music started early on, listening to Spanish speaking artists with her mom, and classic and alternative rock with her dad. At age 13, Sandra taught herself how to play the guitar by listening to Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged album and practicing songs from the album over and over and over. She eventually formed her own band with two high school girlfriends (called The Sheryls) and their short musical career resulted in two original songs that they played at talent shows and high school dances. Sandra continues to delve into artistry and self-exploration through music, whether it be by listening to artists who highly align with her values or ethnic roots, dancing and moving her body for fun and stress relief, or writing and composing songs which allow her to just have fun and play. Sandra lives in Oak Park with her husband, sister, dog, and lizard.

Additional Songs by Chavela Vargas