The Enduring Sentimiento of Chavela Vargas (with Lorena Alvarado)

In this week’s episode, guest Lorena Alvarado discusses her article “Never Late: Unwelcome Desires and Diasporas in Chavela Vargas’ Last Works” which analyzes how the last two albums of musical performer Chavela Vargas, Cupaima (2006) and ¡Por mi Culpa! (2010), continue making aesthetic choices that de-form the classic repertoire of rancheras and boleros. These musical works represent a “late style” formulated by an older subject that refuses to retire quietly and with docility. Alvarado argues that the mix of beloved, familiar lyrics and melodies with sonic details that evoke the experiences of migrants and Indigenous communities result in an unexpected, repellent musicality that speaks to the contemporary struggles of those unwelcome, despised, and outside neo-liberal chronology.

“The album is really a reckoning with the past that we want to annihilate or we have tried to annihilate since the conquest. It’s the instruments that prevailed and that were not gone. It’s really putting together that Indigenous presence and Indigenous ancestors —be they Nahua, Wixarika, Zapoteca, Mazateco —with modernity, which is what the ranchera is. And in that gesture, it’s like, “Let’s face each other again. Let’s go back to that encounter between mestizaje and the Indigenous aspects of ourselves that we don’t wanna see.” In that sense, it’s very much a political album, a political project.”

Episode Transcript (open as PDF)

Show Notes

04:40 article about the contributions of Lucha Reyes to Mexican music

08:50 article on Vargas as lesbian symbol

14:25 about Jorge Negrete, the “charro cantor” who wanted to be an opera singer

26:22 On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain by Edward Said

28:50 Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde

32:35 about Argentine poet and composer Atahualpa Yupanqui

43:00 La Luna Grande, Vargas’ last album and poetry homage to Federico Garcia Lorca

44:30 Chavela, the 2017 documentary about Vargas

About the Guest

Lorena Alvarado is assistant professor of Music and Performance in the Global Arts, Media, and Writing Department at the University of California, Merced. Her work on contemporary popular Latinx music has appeared in the Cambridge History of Latino Literature and the Routledge Companion to Latina/o Media. She is also a poet. Her chapbook, red line lullaby, was published in 2017.