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Chavela Vargas, age 91, still breaking hearts with her voice

As a new commuter, I’ve listened to more NPR this month than I have the total of the rest of my life. This weekend, I was thrilled to catch this segment on All Things Considered on hot contemporary, but traditional Mexican music. “World music” reviewer and Veracruz native Betto Arcos recommends four albums in honor of Mexico’s bicentennial this month, each highlighting a different style of regional Mexican music. Ernesto Anaya plays huapangos from the northeast, Eugenia Leon uses her powerhouse of a voice to sing some bolero among other styles, and the Banda Regional Mixe brings their own energy to traditional Oaxacan brass band music.

Also making the list is Chavela Vargas, legendary ranchera singer, who at 91 has recorded a new album in which she collaborates with various other musicians. The radio segment discusses her decades-long career, interrupted for many years by her battles with alcoholism, the heart-wrenching tone of her voice, and her creative relationship with Spanish film director Pedro Almodóvar. Disappointingly, it doesn’t even mention the fact that she is openly lesbian: she came out ten years ago at the age of 81.

Despite this omission, the segment is still worth checking out, as are all the musicians mentioned.

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