Fans worry about ranchera icon Vicente Fernández, who remains in hospital: NPR

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SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

He is known as El Rey, the king of Mexican music, the country’s greatest living singer. For over half a century, Vicente Fernandez has provided the soundtrack of Mexican life to almost every corner of the Spanish-speaking world. The king of music ranchera, 81, has been hospitalized for more than two months. And as NPR’s Carrie Kahn reports, fans are worried about his fate and the future of the music he has defined.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG BY VICENT FERNANDEZ, “EL REY”)

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The lyrics to one of ranchera’s most famous ballads take on a more urgent tone these days, given Vicente Fernandez’s current health.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “EL REY”)

VICENTE FERNANDEZ: (Song in Spanish).

KAHN: “The day I die,” he sings, “you will cry and cry and cry. “

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “EL REY”)

FERNANDEZ: (Song in Spanish).

KAHN: In 1974, when Fernandez popularized the song “El Rey”, he was singing despised love. But since he fell this summer at his ranch outside Guadalajara and the almost daily rumors of his disappearance, his fans and fellow musicians have been crying.

RIGOBERTO ALFARO RODRIGUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “There are a lot of things that make Fernandez great, but nothing quite like his voice, that booming voice,” says Rigoberto Alfaro Rodriguez, 86, who has arranged dozens of Fernandez songs for decades.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

FERNANDEZ: (Song in Spanish).

KAHN: Still dressed in a crisp mariachi or charro suit with a huge wide-brimmed sombrero and a pistol on his hip, Fernandez loved to show off that voice.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

FERNANDEZ: (Song in Spanish).

KAHN: In concert, he lowered his microphone and sang the end of an unamplified song to thunderous applause.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

FERNANDEZ: (Song in Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

KAHN: Fernandez has sold over 50 million albums worldwide, appeared in dozens of films, won three Grammys, eight Latin Grammys, and has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

ARTURO VARGAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “He left us a great musical legacy,” says Arturo Vargas, longtime guitarist of the famous band Mariachi Vargas from Tecalitlan, a hard-earned legacy. It took Fernandez years to break into the big league. He spent his early career singing on street corners and in restaurants, shunned by record producers. But as other great Mexican crooners left the scene, space opened up for the mustached cowboy from a ranch outside of Guadalajara.

VARGAS: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “His brand is important. He will always be one of the icons of Mexican music, ”Vargas tells me as musicians warm up around us backstage at a recent International Mariachi Festival in Guadalajara, Jalisco.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 1: (Vocalising).

KAHN: Tonight, the Guadalajara Philharmonic Orchestra is seated behind Vargas’ 14-member mariachi band.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

MARIACHI VARGAS DE TECALITLAN: (Song in Spanish).

KAHN: Seats were up to a hundred dollars a ticket. That’s a pretty impressive price tag, considering mariachi’s humble origins, says Jon Clark.

JON CLARK: It was the music of the poor.

KAHN: Clark, now 69, has been performing, studying, and writing about mariachi music for decades. He says that although its roots probably go back to the arrival of Hernan Cortes on the shores of Mexico – the Spanish conquistador traveled with troubadours – historians have not paid much attention to mainly rural and indigenous music. . He says it’s until after the Mexican Revolution.

CLARK: When the indigenous culture was exalted unlike the regime of Porfirio Diaz, where everything was Eurocentric. But by then, much of the story had been lost.

KAHN: Many cities in Mexico, especially in Vicente Fernandez’s hometown of Jalisco, claim the origin of mariachi. Cocula, not far from Guadalajara, calls itself the birthplace of mariachi, with a small museum and traveling musicians.

(EXTRACT FROM THE RINGING OF THE CHURCH BELLS)

KAHN: On Sundays, the youth group from the local mariachi school perform at midday mass just after crossing the street, still in their finest brass-studded costumes and perform in the town square.

(MUSIC EXTRACT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON # 2: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: Vicente Fernandez’s tunes are always favorites with crowds strolling through the public park or sitting on benches, enjoying a quiet Sunday with the family. Many join in the shameless singing, the pitch and the air be damned.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Singing in Spanish).

KAHN: While still a sentimental favorite, the genre has lost its appeal with younger generations. Fernandez despised crossover artists, even his own son, who produced many pop songs as well as mariachi favorites. And that worries Magdalena Vazquez, 52 years old.

MAGDALENA VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “Frankly, today’s music doesn’t have a message,” she says as she sells Tupperware and COVID masks right next to Cocula’s Plaza. Its small stand is in front of the huge bust of the city in honor of Vicente Fernandez.

VAZQUEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: “I have two daughters, and I asked them, how is a boy going to seduce you, win you over, with what song,” she asks. Her husband hides his face in his hands and laughs. It was these old traditional hardcore fans who kept Fernandez’s music alive for more than five decades. Fernandez came up against the younger generations who were more awake than their parents. In January, he half-heartedly apologized after images emerged of him groping a fan’s chest as they posed for a photo. In 2019, he said he refused a liver transplant, fearing it could come from a gay man. But for the diehards, Fernandez’s legacy has survived such transgressions. He has always professed to be driven by his dedicated audience, as he said at a farewell concert in Mexico City in 2016.

(EXTRACT FROM THE ARCHIVED RECORD)

FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Seeming to be holding back tears, he said, “it was always about your affection, respect and applause” and, as he sings in the song “El Rey”, not fame or glory. richness.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “EL REY”)

FERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Fernandez’s music will live on. It would appear that there are dozens of previously recorded songs to be released upon his death, allowing him to stay, as he sings here, the King.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG, “EL REY”)

FERNANDEZ: (Song in Spanish).

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Cocula, Mexico.

(EXTRACT FROM THE SONG BY VICENT FERNANDEZ, “VOLVER, VOLVER”)

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