La llorona: The legend & the song

My Mexican grandmother told me of the story of La Llorona (the wailing woman), and how she was a woman who drowned her own children and was doomed to haunt the valleys in Mexico. Where my grandmother lived in a small, dusty, California town of Corona, La Llorona could be heard wailing and haunting in the back alleys of urban areas. The legend had traveled to the Mexican-American areas of the US as well.

Besides scaring the bejesus out of me, the fact that this legend birthed a folk song about this “wailing woman” has always fascinated me. I recently saw a Frida Kahlo photo exhibit at the Museum of Latin American Art and was reminded of the song, which appeared in the movie, Frida, in which she was portrayed by the effervescent Salma Hayek.

From the wikipedia entry on the song “La Llorona”: “It is difficult to pinpoint exactly who was the first to compose the song “La Llorona”, since it stems from the hundred-year-old urban legend. However, the song was first made well-known to contemporary audiences in 1993 by the Costa Rican-born singer Chavela Vargas. The song’s name and inspiration comes from the urban legend of La Llorona popular in North and South America. The story is of a woman said to haunt the valleys of Mexico, weeping for her children whom she drowned in a fit of madness.”

Here is the version made famous by the inimitable Chavela Vargas:

Also from wikipedia: “Although several variations exist, the basic story tells of a beautiful woman by the name of Maria who drowns her children in order to be with the man that she loved. The man would not have her, which devastated her. She would not take no for an answer, so she drowned herself in a river in Mexico City. Challenged at the gates of Heaven as to the whereabouts of her children, she is not permitted to enter the afterlife until she has found them. Maria is forced to wander the Earth for all eternity, searching in vain for her drowned offspring, with her constant weeping giving her the name “La Llorona.” She is trapped in between the living world and the spirit world.”

Here is the version from the movie “Frida” by the lovely Lila Downs:

And here is another version I found by a singer of Mexican folk songs:

5 thoughts on “La llorona: The legend & the song

  1. La Llorona is referenced in the song ‘Quicksand’ by Ry Cooder, on the ‘Pull of some dust and sit down.’ album. That’s why I looked it up. Quicksand is a song about Mexican illegal immigrants dying of inijury, thirst and vigilante action while trying to cross the desert into Arizone. The last of the group to die sees La Llarona flying and asks her to take a message back home about the group’s fate. Brilliant song.

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