Sunday, November 8, 2015

#BoTB Results: La Llorona (Chabela Vargas vs. Lila Downs)

When I thought up this battle, back at the beginning of October when everyone was talking about Halloween, I made what turned out to be some pretty inexact predictions:

Prediction No. 1 (and I almost didn't do this Battle because of it):
Everyone—okay, at least the great majority of BoTB-ers—is going to hate this Battle.

Reality: not only didn't you guys hate it, but even loved it (with a few exceptions, which make the "Love It" ones all the more believable).

Prediction No. 2 
Sure, I'll be in Mexico Nov. 1, but my mom's place has internet... Nothing to worry about.

Reality: Internet sucks in Mexico. Not only is public wi-fi a rarity, but even in places where you get a password (usually one of those interminable 0ES45J2100KM5R443BE codes, impossible not to mess up), some devices just won't connect. Either the signal is not strong enough, or the router is set up with some sort of firewall that keeps out certain devices (my MacBook always has problems), or, when I did connect, YouTube videos took forever to load, and then refused to play.

Prediction No. 3
Lila's going to leave Chabela in the dirt.

Seriously. I looked for other interpreters, other singers that might give Chabela a better chance... In the end I went with Lila Downs because I thought a shut-out / blow-out was worth it if I was at least giving y'all a pleasant song/voice/arrangement. (And, also, hers was the only cool version with mariachi... And a Day of the Dead without mariachi didn't seem right at all.)

Oh, boy.


Chabela Vargas (6)
Elliptical Man

Lila Downs (5)

Hilary's vote seemed to be for Chabela, but she mentioned something about coming back later to listen to the others... I wasn't sure if she meant the non-contestant ones, or the other contestant (i.e. Lila Downs), so in the interest of fairness I decided not to count that vote. (Hilary, absolutely no offense meant; you know I love you, and I'm beyond pleased you loved the Chabela version.)

Which still puts Chabela ahead of Lila.

Now, admittedly, this round had fewer votes than other battles — my fault — so who knows whether the missing ones would've turned this result on its head. On the other hand, though, some of you disliked Chabela and wound up voting for her anyway, because of how much emotion she puts into her interpretation (Robin's comment comes to mind). So perhaps Chabela does deserve to win this one.

I wavered with my own vote for a while. No one would ever mistake Chabela for easy listening, in spite of the "slow" nature most of her music has. She uses simple arrangements, usually only a guitar (as in the version I used for this battle), but instead of making her music uncomplicated or plain, what this achieves is underlining not just her voice but the raw emotion she injects into it.

Music so charged with intensity is hard to take in even small doses. (And this one wasn't exactly small.)

But... I'm voting for her anyway. Yes, for the emotional power. But also because she was always a rebel. She took by storm the ranchera genre of music, traditionally an exclusively male terrain, and built a career on playing with the male/female duality of roughness and tenderness. It's a powerful statement what she makes: not only men experience complex, non-rose-tinted emotion. Chabela, single-handedly, tore down the unofficial (but very serious) edict that ranchera songs spoke exclusively from a male point of view. And for that she's my hero.

A bit of trivia: there's always been a discussion about whether to spell it Chabela (B) or Chavela (V). It's a shortened form of Isabel, so the B seems logical. However, there are other words in Spanish (Mexican Spanish, specifically) — chavo or chava (meaning kid) come to mind — that create confusion. Also, the shortened form of the name Salvador is Chava — yes, like the female form of kid... So everyone's really confused. And, to be honest, both Chabela and Chavela are acceptable.

Awesome battle, guys. I loved reading your comments and your feedback. I promise to try something more mainstream soon — though not on the 15th, since I paired up with fellow BoTB-er Arlee Bird of Tossing It Out to bring to you a two-fold story told in music. It all starts this Wednesday 11th, when he's generously welcoming me to his blog, as part of the MIRACLE tour in blogs, to reveal the song he'll be using for the next BoTB—song which, coincidence upon coincidence, has an interesting (and somewhat dark) relationship with the story in THE MIRACLE OF SMALL THINGS.

Staying on the fiction-music relationship, I'll be at The Doglady's Den tomorrow (Monday) talking about why MIRACLE protagonist Luis Villalobos chokes up at a certain line of MacArthur Parkepic battle, Debbie! Would love to see you over there and hear your opinion on whether a man who sheds a tear over a disco song is a wuss or a darling.

In the meantime, happy Sunday!


  1. GUILIE ~
    Damn it! How did I miss this Battle? I don't know, but I'm kicking myself because it was a really good one. Not only did I like BOTH recordings, but they were so completely different from each other that it made the Battle super-interesting.

    I'm wondering if I missed it because it apparently appeared in my sidebar like this: #BoTB - Día de Muertos special: Llorona

    I may not have noticed the "BoTB" because it was preceded by the "#", and then all the Spanish words following it may have made me think it was a special Dia de Muertos post, not BOTB. I dunno, that's just a guess. Or maybe I missed it simply because... UHP! I'M AN IDIOT!

    At any rate, too late to vote, I know but I liked both of the versions really well. My vote was by no means a slam-dunk. I have seen paintings of Chabela before but never knew who she was. But, you know, you see a picture of her and... uh... well, it's not something you're apt to forget any time real soon. Ha!

    After listening to Chabela, I thought she'd likely get my vote. But I slightly preferred the LILA version, primarily because I liked the lively mariachi backing and the balance with the male vocalist, as well. Chabela's version may have been a tad long for such a sparse arrangement, but I still liked it and was surprised to find that Lila would have squeaked a victory from me. (And Chabela's recording could have used more cowbell, electric organ, and an electric razor. Ha!)

    Great Battle! Sorry I missed it. I'll do better next time.

    ~ D-FensDogG
    'Loyal American Underground'

    1. LOL, Stephen... Cowbell, electric organ, and an electric razon... LOVE it :D

      Please don't worry about missing the battle... It's my fault. I was in Mexico last week, with limited internet, and I failed to make the rounds as I usually do; it was impossible to get the YouTube videos to load. WOW, though, on Lila angling past Chabela at the eleventh hour (with your vote)! That would've been epic indeed :)

      Thanks for stopping by, Stephen!

  2. Hi Guilie - I did come back and listen to Chabela again .. but had never got to the others .. and not really doing BOTB - no worries by leaving me out of the vote count. Sounds like those who did come and know their music .. understood the recordings ...

    Enjoy Mexico and we'll see you when we see you ... cheers Hilary

    1. Thanks, Hilary! No, I know you're not a BoTB participant, but the voting is open to everyone, no qualifications necessary other than listening to both and choosing one you like more (or hate less, haha). So please feel free to vote in all BoTB posts; your input is very very welcome :)

  3. This was so tough-you know I was ready to go with Lila but as i wrote that, I knew I had to go with Chabela-the song still haunts me and I love different music and folk music. Both deserve to win actually:) I hope the internet, or lack thereof, does not irritate you too much:) It would me:)

    1. You're right, Birgit; they both have their own flavor and uniqueness... Wish we could have declared it a tie :)

      Ugh, lack of internet was—well, 'annoying' is an understatement. Especially with so much going on. But I survived, sort of, and now that I'm back in Curaçao it's all back to normal :) Thanks for the visit, and the concern... much appreciated :)

  4. I'm surprised you thought your readers wouldn't like this battle. I enjoyed it very much, especially because it was kind of different. Besides, I practically worship Frida Kahlo and anything associated with her.


    1. I'm glad, Janie. I guess I'm not really all that familiar yet with y'all's musical preferences, being the new kid on the BoTB block and all... I was super glad to read all the positive responses, though :)

  5. Hi Guilie; Great battle! I really did love Chabela's version, but found it too emotionally draining to listen to, often. Lila's was much easier on the psyche.
    Thanks for the mention. Here's hoping for a good turnout. That Luis is quite a character! ☺

    1. I hear you, Debbie... The Chabela version really isn't easy, not by any definition, and Lila has a way of making even the dreariest song palatable. It was a tough contest, no doubt.

      I'm LOVING being over at your blog! Glad that so many people have stopped by and left good comments about the book... Thanks again for hosting me!

  6. One day I'm going put up a battle that Lila will win! This was a tough match though.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out


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