The Life of Chavela Vargas

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

By: Ashmar Mandou

Legendary singer Chavela Vargas embodied strength, courage, and revelry. Born in San Joaquín de Flores, Costa Rica, but fled to Mexico for musical opportunities, Vargas challenged mainstream ideals of beauty, opposed conformity, and combated social injustices through her willfully powerful and bellowing songs, such as “La Llorona,” “Paloma Negra,” and “Piensa en Mí.” Vargas lived an eccentric and thrilling life, according to her friends Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar and singer Miguel Bosé. Vargas’ colorful life story is what prompted directors Gatherine Gund and Daresha Kyi to dedicate two years of their life to accumulating anecdotes told by those closest to her for their biographical film entitled, Chavela, which debuted earlier this year. On October 20th, Chavela will premiere at Chicago’s Music Box Theater. We spoke to Kyi about her experience working on Chavela and what she hopes people, especially women take away from viewing the film.

Lawndale Bilingual Newspaper: What circumstances surrounded your life that led to you Chavela Vargas?
Daresha Kyi: It was late in my life. My friend and co-director Catherine Gund introduced me to Chavela Vargas back in 2015 when she shared Chavela’s music with me and told me about her life. I immediately became a fan, especially the way she sang about Mexico. I have such an affinity for Mexico as I spent a lot of time there and consider Mexico to be home to me. Catherine and I had discussions about possibly putting something together, two years later, here we are.

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - Local News

What did you enjoy the most about filming Chavela?
Hearing all the stories. [Laughs] I was salivating hearing from her friends Pedro Almodóvar, Eugenia León, Tania Libertad, and Miguel Bosé. One story was more intense than the previous one and really showcased her ability to live an authentic life. She was who she was. Unapologetic. She was a just a true pioneer for combatting social inequalities and machismo. There were so many wonderful stories, but one of my favorites was the story about how Chavela loved her plants. She absolutely adored her plants, treated them like human beings. Would talk to her plants every day. One day, a friend of hers walk into her home and accidentally stepped on one of her plants. Without hesitation, Chavela grabbed one of her guns and shot at his feet. [Laughs] That pretty much sums up who she was.

Chavela Vargas was such a formidable figure and led a wildly adventurous life. What lessons do you hope people take away from this film, especially for women?
I really hope people feel inspired after watching Chavela. I hope people are moved by her story. As for women, I hope they realize it is such a blessing to be a woman. We are goddesses. We create life. There is no humanity without women. There is so much negative dialogue already that weighs us down, we hear enough bullshit. We need to remind ourselves that we are powerful women with immense purpose.

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