Vicente Fernández: Chente and the elixir of Mexicanity | Opinion

Vicente Fernández, during a concert in Miami in 2010.
Vicente Fernández, during a concert in Miami in 2010.Gustavo Caballero (Getty Images)

On the day of the Virgencita de Guadalupe, Chente leaves us. What a dramatic ending. As in one of his films, it only remains to show the end credits and lower the curtain. I did not wait something less. The last of the gang to fall. Vicente Fernandez. Of the Fernández de Guadalajara. Breeder of dwarf horses, and even more important, architect of the quintessential Mexicanist.

There are very few left. A large part of the Sgt Peppers of Mexican music: Chente along with Lucha Villa, Antonio Aguilar, Pedro Infante, Jorge Negrete, Javier Solís, Chavela Vargas and of course José Alfredo.

Vicente was a crooner in charro suit. Interpreter of the most heartfelt songs that crush the hearts of Mexicans. With her voice full of tears. Sometimes mischievous, hopeless romantic. Dreamer and fanatic. Handsome and mustachioed.

Chente was part of a second generation of mariachis from film and television. Although much of his personality was close to that of Pedro Infante and Jorge Negrete, he was always more of a ranchería mariachi and less of a city. Their covers reflected that; with horses or in his stable with his animals. A badass charro: a kind of John Wayne from Jalisco. Bling bling rural.

Like many of the great singers of his time, we saw how Chente went from being a cante on foot (or in his case on horseback) to taking the mariachi show to new heights. It turned it into something detached from youth and closer to a family spectacle. The mariachi stopped being the music of young people to be the canon of the music of the great Mexican family.

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For Chente, his music had to be a luxurious rite where the singers were almost deities, accompanied by 50 mariachis in charro suits, as a Hollywood orchestra in majestic settings such as the National Auditorium or even, in his mythical farewell concert at the Stadium Aztec.

Chente had a very long career that made him the greatest Mariachi Superstar. Nobody like him knew how to connect with Mexican migrants in the United States. He was one of the first to think that Mexico and its neighbor are one country. Or at least, we all speak Spanish and shop tickets

When I think of Vicente, I think of that Mexico in frank erosion. In PRI Mexico controlled by Televisa. In pre-NAFTA Mexico. In a country of great monoliths. In a country of two flavors. Either you were pro PRI or against PRI. Either you were pro Fernández or you were pro Aguilar. A Mexico of ranches and traditions. A Mexico of males with their women as a trophy.

Chente wouldn’t stop singing until the applause was over. He always had great generosity in his concerts. I don’t think his death means that the applause is over. Maybe he just retired to rest while he finished one more bottle of tequila.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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