Death came for singer Chavela Vargas in Cuernavaca, Mexico, on August 5 due to respiratory failure. The 93-year-old native of Costa Rica is mourned by fans throughout the Spanish-speaking world. She had been hospitalized for days in Spain, complaining of fatigue. Returning to Mexico on July 21, Vargas' condition continued to deteriorate. Her fans had followed her condition via Facebook and Twitter, while expressing their admiration for the nonagenarian artist. Vargas had been in Madrid to participate in a tribute to Spanish leftist poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Responding to concerns voiced by her fans, Vargas tweeted "Because I am a shaman, I am not going to die. I will merely transcend."
Vargas was born on April 17, 1919 in Costa Rica. As a teenager, Vargas left for Mexico and tried for years to sing professionally. It was in 1960, at the age of 41, that she finally earned some success with her expressive, if hoarse, voice with which she interpreted Mexico’s songbook of popular ranchera tunes. In Mexico, and the rest of Latin America, she soon became famous for singing love songs about women. She took on the masculine persona of Mexico’s romantic crooners, such as movie star Jorge Negrete, always dressing as a man and sporting a pistol on her belt and a bottle of tequila always nearby.
Vargas was open about her sexual orientation towards women. She once wrote, “It is not being homosexual that hurts, but that it is thrown in your face as if it were the plague. One must have a great deal of venom in the soul to cast daggers at a person only for not being of this or that way.” In 2011, following a tribute to her decades of singing, Vargas said “I was never afraid of anything because I never did harm to anyone.”
She was acquainted with artists such as Frida Kahlo, Pablo Picasso, and Diego Rivera, along with writers such as Carlos Fuentes and Carlos Monsiváis. She also sang for the soundtracks of movies directed by Pedro Almodóvar and Alejandro González Iñárritu. Vargas was also featured in the Hollywood movie about Frida Kahlo that starred Mexican actress Salma Hayek.
Vargas seldom enjoyed good health. As a child, she survived a bout of poliomyelitis and attributed her recovery to the ministrations of shamans and witches. She thereafter always carried with her the talismans and amulets prescribed by them. Sometimes known as a shaman herself, 'Chamana' Vargas did not fear death and instead thought of it as something “very beautiful, like a respite.” She once said that upon her eventual death that she hoped to be remembered as “a crazy old woman who drank 40 bottles of tequila.” She added that she wanted her body to be thrown “Into a river, a lake somewhere.”
In her later years, Vargas was confined to a wheelchair but continued to express her opinions about current events in Mexico. She frequently denounced the violence associated with President Felipe Calderon’s repression of narcoterrorists.