Monday, August 10, 2009

La Llorona

I’ve been working on some freelance projects lately, and one of my favorite albums to work to is the soundtrack from the movie Frida. One particular song has been haunting me…in the best way - a song called “La Llorona”, performed on the soundtrack by Chevala Vargas.

Listen as you continue reading – you can find the song here:

“Llorona” is pronounced: “Yorona” (the double “L” in Spanish denotes a “y” sound), and in Spanish, it means “weeping woman”.

La Llorona is a figure from South American folklore; a beautiful woman who drowns her own children, and upon realizing what she has done, kills herself (or wastes away out of grief) to become a mournful spirit.

There are many versions of this tale. In some, the woman (often named Maria) is vain and promiscuous and kills her children because they interfere with her wonton ways.
In others, the childrens' father neglects Maria, but dotes on the children and she slays them out of jealousy.
In another version, she falls in desperate love with a man who will not accept her children and she kills them in a desperate bid to win his love.
But in every version, after drowning her offspring, she realizes the horrible act she has committed and goes mad with grief and regret.

La Llorona is a cautionary tale; warning of tragic results should a woman deny her primary role as mother, betraying her first loyalty to her children for the love of a man.

The weeping spirit also serves as a boogeyman to frighten children and keep them safe.
The ghost, wasted but still beautiful, with long black hair and a white gown, walks along rivers or near bodies of water, crying: “My children! My children! Where are my children…?”
Naughty children who are out after dark, near the water unsupervised are likely to be snatched away by the mad, desperate spirit.

The song “La Llorna” is one of Latin America’s most popular folk songs, and many artists have recorded versions of it, including American folk singer Joan Baez.

Chevala Vargas’ rendition (recorded when she was 85) is particularly haunting. Her voice has a rough and edgy quality that beautifully expresses the mournful, tragic atmosphere of the story.

Ms. Vargas is quite a character herself.
Born in Costa Rica, she suffered from blindness and polio as a child, afflictions which she claims were healed by shamans.
At the age of 14, she ran away to Mexico to seek her fortune, and became quite successful in the 1950’s and 60’s, touring Mexico, the U.S. France and Spain.
She was, in fact, a contemporary and friend of Frida Kahlo, and they seem to have shared a penchant for non-conformist behavior. It is said that in her youth, Chevala dressed as a man, smoked cigars, drank heavily, carried a gun and seduced women in her audience with the romantic ranchero songs intended to be sung by men.
At the age of 81, she openly admitted to being a lesbian, and has become a beloved icon to Latina lesbians.

La Llorna lyrics (Spanish):

Todos me dicen el Negro, Llorona
Negro, pero cariñoso
Yo soy como el chile verde, Llorona
Picante, pero sabroso

Ay de mí, Llorona, Llorona
Llorona, llévame al río
Tápame con tu rebozo, Llorona
Porque me muero de frió

Si porque te quiero quieres, Llorona
Quieres que te quiera más
Si ya te he dado la vida, Llorona
¿Qué mas quieres?
¿Quieres más?


They all call me the black one, Weeping Woman
Black, but loving
I’m like the green chili, Weeping Woman
Biting, but delicious

Woe poor me, Weeping Woman, Weeping Woman
Weeping Woman, take me to the river
Cover me with your shawl, Weeping Woman
Cause I’m dying of cold

If because I love you, you want me, Weeping Woman
You want me to love you more
But if I’ve even given you my life, Weeping Woman
What else do you want?
You want more?

Now, go back and watch the YouTube video of the song, and if you haven't seen Frida, rent it!

Sources and more info:
artwork by Diana Bryer

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