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Chavela Vargas: Mexico’s great sapphic chanteuse

Chavela Varges
An early photo of Vargas, focusing on her beautiful face, and cropping out whatever masculine clothes she might have been wearing at the time.
A word of comfort to non-Spanish speakers: Mexican toddlers have a stronger command of the language than I do, but the first time I heard Chavela Vargas’ “Paloma Negra,” I knew exactly what she was saying. There are some artists that convey such an intense pathos without the benefit of a common language, even attempting to write about them leaves one feeling a little hackneyed, but I’ll do my best.

Chavela Vargas was born Isabel Vargas Lizano in Costa Rica in 1919. In the midst of an unstable childhood, she moved to Mexico at the tender ago of 14 to pursue a singing career in the burgeoning Mexican arts scene. For years she busked, wearing men’s clothing and smoking cigars. She carried a gun and embodied the machismo of her artistic idiom. Though she covered quite a bit of ground stylistically, Vargas was mainly known for her rancheras- traditional Mexican music performed with a single voice and Spanish guitar. Rancheras are often mournful torch songs sung by drunken men; alcohol provided a socially acceptable loophole for Mexican machismo to be shrugged aside for emotional and vulnerable performances. On the more rare occasion that rancheras were performed by women, gender pronouns were obviously switched to keep everything tidily heterosexual. Vargas simply sang to the girls.
Chavela Vargas
Vargas in full poncho
It wasn’t until her 30s that her career began to flourish, kick-started by a brief but successful visit to pre-Castro Cuba. By the time she became popular in Mexico, she was as much known for her bombastic persona and unapologetic sexuality as she was for her powerful voice and intense performances. She would come to shows on motorcycles, smoke cigars onstage, imbibe heavily, and openly flirt with men’s wives during performances (many swear she took a few home with her). All of this was during a time when even wearing pants was scandalous behavior for a woman in Mexico. While she had a rich sense of humor, one of her stylistic trademarks was slowing down cheeky tunes, transforming what were originally dirty little ditties into something intensely erotic. The scandals cost her a lot of work, but Vargas had no interest in catering to anyone’s notion of respectability.

Much of her life is shrouded in rumor and half-truths. It’s said that Vargas walked with a limp due to an injury incurred while attempting to climb in the second story window of an ex-lover. (Given Vargas’ difficulties with alcoholism, this isn’t particularly difficult to believe.) It’s known that she was incredibly close to Frida Kahlo, even living with her and her husband, Diego Rivera, for a time. I’ve never found absolute confirmation that they were lovers, but it’s largely accepted as fact by fans of both artists. Vargas even made an appearance in the 2002 Frida Kahlo biopic, singing a ghostly version of one of her signature songs, “”La Llorona,” (“The Weeping Woman”). I urge you to listen to both versions back to back; Vargas’ age and alcoholism seasoned her voice with a quality I can only describe as post-beautiful.

While Vargas’ career was fraught with ups and downs, she virtually disappeared for about 15 years starting in the late 70s. Intense depression and alcoholism finally sent her into a long seclusion, but in 1991 she returned to the stage, happy, healthy and transformed. With her famed trademark innuendo, the 74-year-old butch lesbian declared her never-ending commitment to music at a concert in Madrid, saying, “When you like something, you should do it all night long.” She officially came out in 2000, at age 81, and played Carnegie Hall three years later. She continued singing and recording up until her death in 2012, at age 93.
Chavela Vargas and Frida Kahlo
Vargas and Frida Kahlo
Below is some rare early footage of Vargas performing her famous rendition of “Macorina,” a poem that she set to music of her own composition. During the refrain, “Put your hand here, Macorina,” Vargas’ own hand would wander between her thighs. It was her first hit, and it was originally banned in Mexico, a country that now reveres here as one of its great daughters. The lyrics:

Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.
Put your hand here, Macorina
Put your hand here.

Your feet left the mat
And your skirt escaped
Seeking the boundary
On seeing your slender waist
The sugar canes threw
Themselves down along the way
For you to grind
As if you were a mill.
Put your hand ...

Your breasts, soursop fruit
Your mouth a blessing
Of ripe guanabana
And your slender waist
Was the same as that dance
Put your hand ...

Then the dawn
That takes you from my arms
And I not knowing what to do
With that woman scent
Like mango and new cane
With which you filled me at
The hot sound of that dance.
Put your hand ...


Posted by Amber Frost | Leave a comment
Be mesmerized by the juggling skills of Rudy Cárdenas

It’s been said that Mexican juggler Rudy Cárdenas rehearsed 9-5 everyday, then went on and performed his act in the evening. Now that’s dedication.

During his long career, Cárdenas was a major star of stage and TV variety shows, from the 1950s-1980s, and he was regularly considered the world’s greatest juggler. But don’t take my word for it, judge for yourself.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Is Mexico’s president-elect the male Sarah Palin or the gay OJ Simpson of politics?

Mexicans may have woken up the day after their election worried that they’d chosen a “himbo” who has never read a book version of Sarah Palin to lead their country in the form of seemingly empty-headed pretty boy president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, but it might be worse than even that nasty nightmare come true: What if Peña Nieto is more like a closeted gay OJ Simpson/John Edwards kind of homicidal super-cad hybrid character?

Sounds vaguely like a telenovela that has jumped the shark, no?

Wonkette’s Lisa Wines has the down and dirty. Trust me this shit is the best:

Agustín Humberto Estrada Negrete, a former director and teacher at a school for children with special needs, claims to have been Peña Nieto’s homosexual lover for seven years while Peña Nieto was governor of Mexico state and married to Monica Pretelini. Estrada Negrete claims that Peña Nieto’s wife discovered him and Peña Nieto inflagranti and an argument between husband and wife ensued. When Peña Nieto started to beat his wife, Estrada Negrete decided it was time to leave. The next thing he knew, Monica Pretelini was dead. Since Estrada Negrete had been beaten before by Peña Nieto, he is convinced that Peña Nieto killed his wife. In an interview, Estrada Negrete said that after Monica Pretelini’s January 2007 death, Peña Nieto cried upon Estrada Negrete’s breast, “I went too far.”

On May 12, 2007, Peña Nieto’s deceased wife’s bodyguards were murdered while accompanying Peña Nieto’s three children, their maternal grandparents and aunt in Veracruz. Only the truck of the bodyguards was targeted; the family was unhurt. Estrada Negrete attests that these were the same bodyguards who would come and pick him up, in the same truck, for his assignations with Peña Nieto.

On May 17, 2007, just four months after the death of Peña Nieto’s wife, Estrada Negrete participated in an LGBT event, posing in a red dress. The photo of him in a dress made it into the papers and since then, Estrada Negrete’s life (as well as the lives of his family and the mothers of the school children who supported him) has been in grave danger. Estrada Negrete says this was the end of his relationship with Peña Nieto, since he had always been warned by Peña Nieto that there would be dire consequences if he came out of the closet.  Estrada Negrete lost his job, was arrested twice for minor charges, tortured and gang-raped in jail, had death threats written on the walls of his school and inside his home and finally someone tried to kill him with a plastic bag over his head. Left for dead on the street, luckily the Red Cross saved him. In a wheelchair he escaped to the United States in 2010 with his political asylum papers in hand. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights filed a precautionary measure in Mexico to protect Estrada Negrete and his family and eventually was able to get the Mexican government to pay Estrada Negrete’s teacher’s back-pay. He lives in San Diego now, still fearing for his life but denouncing Peña Nieto and telling his story any chance he gets.

Adding to the mystery, on the day of Peña Nieto’s wife’s death, the announcements were all over the place. First, the governor’s own spokesperson announced that she had died from an overdose of anti-depressants (other reports said sleeping pills), then that she was brain dead, then finally, the doctor who had been treating her for two years made an announcement that she had been having seizures and that she had suffered, this time, from a fatal one, which caused cardiac arrhythmia and in turn respiratory arrest, from which she died. No wonder Peña Nieto was so confused in a May 2010 TV interview with respected Univisión journalist Jorge Ramos, when Ramos asked Peña Nieto how his wife had died. He couldn’t answer. He babbled on and on like he did at the Guadalajara book fair when asked what books he’d read that influenced his life. Ramos had to remind him that his wife died of an epileptic seizure. We think that Peña Nieto should have said in Guadalajara that the book that most influenced him was, If I Did It, by OJ Simpson.

Of course, all the bad things happened when he was just a tyke (in his thirties). Now he’s a man (in his forties). And president. So we’re sure he’s learned his lesson, right? Well, all is not well in the soap-opera fairy tale of Peña Nieto and Angelica Rivera, his soap-opera star wife. On March 13 of this year, Angelica Rivera was admitted to a hospital, bruised and beaten. Mexican radio station Radio Formula confirmed that Rivera was hospitalized for two days in March after she “fell from the stairs.” On May 29, Mexican actress Laura Zapata (Tony Mottola’s sister-in-law) tweeted that Angelica Rivera was severely beaten by Peña Nieto and hospitalized again. This time, no media outlets confirmed Angelica’s stay in the hospital, because according to Laura Zapata, the attending physicians were told not to say a word.

Ay yi yi!

Read more of Gay? Murderer? The telenovela life of president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto at Wonkette

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Elaborate ‘Cholombian’ Hairstyles
11:02 am



Vice published an interesting article a few months back on a recent Mexican fashion and music trend: Kids who call themselves “Colombianos.”

Colombianos dig Colombian “cumbia” music and, apparently, lots and lots of hair gel. Now if they would only wear those boss Mexican pointy boots to go with their elaborate, sculpted hairdos. That would really complete the look, if you ask me.

Posted by Tara McGinley | Leave a comment
Jodorowsky’s ‘March of the Skulls’: Collective Psychomagic in Mexico

Late last month in Mexico City, Alejandro Jodorowsky organized the “March of the Skulls” to disperse negative energy caused by the death toll of the nation’s drug war. Nearly 40,000 Mexicans have died drug war related deaths in the past five years. The advance billing for the November 27th event described it as “the first act of collective psycho-magic in Mexico” and it attracted nearly 3000 people who donned skeleton masks, face-paint, tops hats. Some marchers carried black versions of the Mexican flag and shouted “Long live the dead!”

From the Los Angeles Times:

The “maestro” arrived at the palace steps about 1:30 p.m., causing brief havoc among the gathered calaveras as people jostled to get near him. The white-haired Jodorowsky, fit and agile at 82, wore a black sports coat, a bright purple scarf and a detailed skull mask.

Along with his family, Jodorowsky led the calaveras up the Eje Central avenue to Plaza Garibaldi in a mostly silent demonstration. In the late 1980s, he filmed some key scenes of “Santa Sangre” at this plaza, homebase for the city’s for-hire mariachi bands. On Sunday, it was easy to imagine another “Santa Sangre” scene being filmed during the march, but this time from a dark and unfamiliar future.

Someone decided the group should sing a song. It became “La Llorona,” the Weeping Woman. 

Jodorowsky was displeased with the group’s initial interpretation, so he asked for another go at it. A mariachi band joined in as accompaniment.

“There are 50,000 dead beings,” Jodorowsky said through a bullhorn, before the sea of skulls. “They are sheep. They are not black sheep. We must have mercy for these souls that have disappeared. Let’s sing this song with lament, as if we were the mother of one of these persons. Understand?”

Then he asked that all those present cross and link their arms with those of the strangers around them. The group did. They chanted “Peace, peace, peace!” until Jodorowsky asked that everyone let out a big laugh. Laughter and applause followed.

You have to love that the wiley shaman did the old “c’mon you guys can do better” routine and made them sing it again!

After the jump, a news report about Alejandro Jodorowsky’s November 27, 2011 Psychomagic event in Mexico.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Mexican police seize diamond-encrusted and gold-plated automatic weapons from drug cartel
12:31 pm

Current Events

drug dealers
drug cartels

The feared Mexican drug cartel La Familia was behind the shooting down of a police helicopter, authorities say and they were given a tip-off about a big meeting that was to take place in the group’s stonghold area of Michoacan. That information led to a police shoot-out that the killed eleven suspected members of the cartel, and 36 others, including three known top leaders were captured.

The Mexican police also confiscated several jewel-encrusted or gold-plated automatic weapons. From the BBC:

“They were hiding in Jalisco, waiting for instructions from their boss and planning an attack on a group which calls itself the Knights Templar, with which they’re at war,” Mr Rosas told reporters at a news conference.

The police commissioner described the Knights Templar as an offshoot of La Familia, which had split from the cartel after the killing by security forces of La Familia leader Nazario Moreno in December 2010.

Police said they seized 70 long-range weapons and 14 pistols, many of them encrusted with gold, silver and precious stones.

They also secured more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition and 40 bullet-proof vests.

Fighting between rival factions of the La Familia cartel displaced at least 2,000 people from their homes in Michoacan state this week.

Imagine having so much money that you could have a gold-plated automatic weapon! That’s some real James Bond shit. Perhaps Harry Winston and Tiffany’s need to get in on the “luxury” arms trade? They’re leaving BIG money on the table if they don’t!


Previously on DM: Logo narco: The branding of Mexican drug cartels.

Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment
Mexico Celebrates 200 Years of Independence
03:42 pm

Current Events


Celebrations are underway marking the 200th anniversary of the start of Mexico’s War of Independence.

On 16th September 1810, a priest, Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla declared Mexico’s freedom from the Spanish colonial government, in the small town of Dolores.  Hidalgo’s call to arms became known as the Grito de Dolores (the Cry of Dolores), and led to the first of many rebellions against the forces of the Spanish Crown, which resulted in Mexico’s independence in 1821.

They don’t make priests like Hidalgo anymore - an intellectual revolutionary, who spoke out against Church and Crown, lived openly with his lover, fathered several children, smoked, drank, and gambled.  More importantly, he was an egalitarian, who believed in the sharing of wealth.  Hidalgo was eventually caught, excommunicated, tried for treason, and executed in 1811.  However, his clear-sighted actions inspired a nation to reclaim its liberty.

These incredible photographs show some of the events taking place for Mexico’s bicentennial celebrations.

More can be seen here


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Vice: Mexican Narco Cinema
01:43 pm




The Vice Guide to Film uploaded this video guide to Mexican narco cinema. The genre focuses on “cocaine, guns, girls and trucks.” Vice went to Mexico to explore the budding new genre. Fun stuff, inspired by Mexico’s current drug cartel mayhem.

(Pictured above: Jesus Malverde, the patron saint of drug trafficking!)

(Vice: Mexican Narco Cinema)


Posted by Jason Louv | Leave a comment
Turkey: The Other Drug Mule
02:35 pm

Current Events

Drug Mules

The above clip from Mexican television exposes a new wrinkle in the drug-smuggling game sure to be popping up on next season’s Weeds: the use of turkeys as drug mules.  According to my Google-translated Spanish, traffickers apparently anesthetized the turkeys, then “introduced into their bodies” all the illegal merchandise (in this case, roughly 3 kilograms of baggied heroin). 

The birds were next transported via bus to Trujillo, where their unusual weight drew the attention of Federal agents.  Thankfully, though (and you can see it in the clip), a veterinarian was summoned to withdraw the baggies, sparing the turkeys further harm (for now).  WARNING: the above clip is NOT for the squeamish.


Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment
Mexico’s Universities Of Crime
01:47 pm

Current Events


Engrossing article this week by Marc Lacey in The New York Times: Mexico’s Drug Traffickers Continue Trade in Prison.  In it, Lacey describes the nonchalance with which prison guards in Mexico grant “revolving door status” to that nation’s most notorious drug traffickers.  The guard-trafficker relationship has, in fact, grown so cozy of late that prison cells have become de facto bases of operation for the traffickers’ criminal empires.  What were once “Centers for Social Rehabilitation” are now better known as “Universities of Crime.” 

Fortunately, there’s American money on its way to fix things!  As part of its counter-narcotics assistance program, the U.S government is sending Mexico a grand total of…$4.0 million.  Cue this.  In the accompanying surveillance video, watch and see what all that money’s gonna try to fix.

Posted by Bradley Novicoff | Leave a comment