Review of Live at Carnegie Hall Album by Chavela

Live at Carnegie Hall
Album Review

Chavela Live at Carnegie Hall Album

The release is a live recording of a 2003 performance in Carnegie Hall from 86 year old Costa Rican born Mexican bred rancheras legend Chavela Vargas (also know as 'La Chebela'). Chevala has been at the top and bottom of things so many times her life would make an interesting movie; she ran away from Costa Rica to Mexico at the age of 14, she's a lesbian who was once in love with Frida Kahlo, once lost everything to drink and was rescued by Spanish director Pedro Almadovar.

She's as legendary for her life story as she is for haunting and melodramatic performances of Mexican folk music. She brazenly expresses her sentiments in her performances by wooing and seducing women from her audience singing songs culturally written for men to sing to women – rancheras. She has recorded over 80 albums but was brought to popular culture through Pedro Almadovar's inclusion of her songs on soundtracks for his movies.

Salma Hayek's introduction for this performance has her comparing Chavela to Billie Holliday for the raw emotion she brings to the music and true to expectation she loads each line of each song with emotion borne out of living the experiences she sings about. There's an abundance of emotion, clearly evident but it is impossible to overlook the voice cracks and pauses where she speaks the words of the song rather than sing. Expectedly age and time have worn her voice and it doesn't really impress on this album.

Repeatedly belting out the word 'Amor' (recognisable to speakers and non speakers of the Spanish language) and in each instance she loads the word with as much emotion as is possible for her once powerful but now aged voice. She whispers the words on her delivery of ' La Llorona'; a delivery that might be borne out of loss of vocal strength or a choice of hushed tones to add effect, for whatever reason it's a haunting and tension soaked rendition of one of her more popular songs. The highlights of the album for me are said ' La Llorona' and 'Las Simples Cosas' where Miguel Pena (on the guitar) shines the most. And she delivers songs like ' Luz De Luna' and 'Sombras' with so much anger and pain that you cannot but wonder what the inspiration for these songs are…

Not the best introduction to Chavela for first timers and not really the best of additions to a Chavela collection for hardcore fans but true fans will definitely overlook her loss of vocal quality and hold on to remnants of their Chavela of old, sadly that Chavela is not too evident on this presentation…

Seyi Fabode