Chavela Vargas – Mexico’s lesbian pioneer of song


I recently saw CHAVELA, a gorgeous, moving documentary co-directed by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi. . Most of the audience was in tears from the first word of the film: “solidad.”

The film’s poster image depicts a proud, outspoken woman and defiant defender of soul.   A lesbian living and performing in highly homophobic culture, Chavela Vargas challenged the macho of the Latin American “ranchero” song by reclaiming the songs for women.   She dressed in men’s clothes, sang rancheras, swooned every woman in Mexico (according to a recent documentary about the singer) and battled/beat one of the worst diseases of loneliness: alcoholism. But that was on Monday. On Tuesday, jump starting her career, again , at age 71, Vargas went on to play at the biggest performance clubs in Mexico and entertain an international career. A former girlfriend states in CHAVELA, “She wanted to die on stage, singing.” The film is passionate, archival, musical, and full of history’s divergent paths that came together when Chavela took the mic.

According to the Hollywood Reporter (2/12/2017) Vargus was born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919, and was ” an unloved, lonely child whose boyish manner was an embarrassment to her traditional churchy parents. ” CHAVELA documents this tender trail-blazer as the singer adorns herself in poncho and the thick vocal stories of her lust, loss, solidarity, and solitude.