Who is Chavela Vargas?
This iconic Costa-Rican born woman is badass in every sense of the word. Chavela (nickname for Isabel) also dubbed “la voz aspera de la ternura”, or the rough voice of tenderness is famous for her rancheras, a very popular genre from Mexico, and her haunting performances. She has teamed up with a much acclaimed director, Pedro Almodovar, for the film La Flor de Mi Secreto. In 2002, she appeared in Julie Taymor’s film, Frida. (Video above is Chavela’s clip) Most recently, she also performed in Babel by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu.
Why is she badass?
Chavela dated Frida Kahlo and in her younger years cross-dressed, acted like a man, smoked cigars, drank like a sailor and probably swore like one, too. This was way back when things were different. Yet, she had the cojones to be who she was, a woman who was as passionate about women as she is about her music.
Around the same time that Chavela came out, in 2000, she was awarded Spain’s Great Cross of Isabel la Católica, the country’s highest honor for artistic production. The Spanish newspapers questioned her on her sexuality.
“I didn’t attend lesbian classes. No one taught me to be this way. I was born this way, from the moment I opened my eyes in this world. I’ve never been to bed with a man. Never. That’s how pure I am; I have nothing to be ashamed of. My gods made me the way I am.”
When asked about her relationship with Frida, Chavela said “When I saw Frida’s face, her eyes, it seemed like she was from another world…I sensed I could love that being with the most pure love in the world.”
In her live performances, Chavela was known to seduce the women openly and wear mens clothes. Even her album covers were Chavela clad in mens ranchero wear of that time.
It’s fearless women like Chavela that have bulldozed past gender roles and paved the way for the rest of us. A true Lesbian Mexican Icon.
Read and learn more about Chavela’s life and music: