I believe it was Kim of Boston who introduced me to Chavela Vargas -- no more than a month ago. In that time, she has become a fixture on my computer at work. When the vagaries of life impinge, I turn up the volume and suffer through the unfairness of life -- but with élan.
I had never heard of her before Kim's introduction. And I know why. She is one of those iconic singers who embody a national spirit. Think of Maria Severa Onofriana of Fado fame. "World famous" in their art in their home land. But, outside of their country, as unknown as grace at a miser's convocation.
Of course, some national icons make the cross-over leap: Édith Piaf, Ella Fitzgerald -- Noel Coward (just kidding). But not yet Chavela -- at least, not to that extent.
After all, Kim is an aficionado -- a true advocate for Chavela. And she deserves the advocacy. Even at 89, with the voice reduced to a croak, there is force and charisma. Far more than merely the remnants of a pretty voice. Chavela still sings with the embodiment of sorrow and strength.
I began with her 2003 concert at Carnegie Hall. (You might enjoy reading a review of that performance.) If you want to hear some samples of that recording, you can do so here. For those of you who have not yet been introduced to the music of Chavela, you have a treat in store. Without knowing Spanish (and I sit in the front row of that class), a lot of the story disappears in the magic of her telling.
When my linguistic skills improve, I look forward to visiting in depth with Chavela. Until then, she helps to fill my days with the mystery of Mexico.