La dama y el canalla
In this episode we discuss Vámonos, a Mexican ranchera written by José Alfredo Jiménez, one of the greatest and most prolific songwriters of the 20th Century.
One of many singers who helped to popularise the song was Chavela Vargas. She was close friends with Jiménez – it is well-known that they shared many a tequila together. On stage, Chavela had a truly iconic presence. Always clad in her poncho, her signature gesture was to slowly open her arms as she sang, in a warm embrace of every member of the audience. She said that her performances were big cathartic experiences, with the audience exiting the theatre feeling transformed and purified.
Vámonos tells us the story of a doomed romance. Two people long to be together, but they are from different worlds. One of the loveliest lines in the song goes yo no entiendo esas cosas de las clases sociales (“I don’t understand all that stuff about social classes”). There is a distinctly moral characterisation of the two characters in the words used to define how others see them: She is decente (decent, proper, a lady) and the man is un canalla (a raffish character, an outlaw maybe): this is a world of very defined gender roles, which Chavela Vargas’ general disregard for traditional femininity did much to subvert.