‘Chavela,’ doc highlights tequila-drinking, rebel music icon

Legendary musical icon Chavela Vargas. Photo ©Maj Lindström

The raw passion and profound suffering that came through in the songs she sang could easily cleanse the soul. Those who attended the performances of Mexican music legend Chavela Vargas often described her concerts like a therapy session. So it’s no wonder that the documentary “Chavela” chronicling her life has the same power as she once did.

Vargas, a world renowned, Grammy-winning icon, tore down barriers for women in the late 1940s with her gut-wrenching ranchera music. By the 1950s, she was a staple in Mexico City’s bohemian club scene romancing the likes of Frida Kahlo. Vargas challenged the mainstream by wearing pants instead of dresses and refused to change the pronouns in songs intended for men to woo women.

“Chavela,” which screens at the AFS Cinema through Dec. 28, brings to life never-before-seen footage shot by co-director Catherine Gund in the 1990s. “For me, Chavela’s life is not a cautionary tale, but rather, a rich subterranean dimension of our own living,” Gund wrote in her director’s statement. “She is not a role model, but a muse. Not only an elder, but a frame for our contemporary desires.”

Chavela spent more than a decade outside of the limelight as she struggled with a drinking addiction, then had a remarkable comeback late in life. Renowned Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar, who helped relaunch her career, is also featured in the moving documentary.

Don’t miss the opportunity to watch the film. Cine Las Americas members receive $2 off admission of tickets purchased at the AFS box office. On Jan. 2, the film will be available on DVD and digital. To pre-order, visit

The documentary “Chavela” highlights the life of iconoclastic, game-changing artist Chavela Vargas. Photo ©Ysunza


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