Agustín Lara Biography (BBC)
Agustín Lara is one of Mexico’s most well-known composers, and probably one of the country’s most prolific, writing over 700 songs. Born in Mexico City on 30 October 1897, he considered he owed everything to Tlacotalpan, near the port of Veracruz, where he spent the first six years of his childhood. His favourite saying was, ‘We Jarochas [people from Veracruz] were born with a bell in our heart, a little sadness in our souls and very little money in our pockets. But we are very happy!’
When he was 6, his family returned to Mexico City, where he began studying the piano, which he went on to play all his life. A naturally talented musician, Lara rapidly learnt to play by ear and by the age of 12 was composing melodies and setting them to tango, foxtrot, waltz and complex Mexican danzón rhythms. At 13, he started playing in a low-life nightclub, an experience cut short by his indignant doctor father, who sent him to military school. This did not dissuade Lara and, as soon as he could, he began playing and singing in the cabarets of the city.
A tall, elegant, slender man, Lara was renowned for his love of life, a good party and all that went with it. Full of passionate dreams, deep disappointments, betrayals, jealousies, sufferings of the heart, his songs reveal a deeply romantic spirit. Many were inspired by his relationships with women: ‘Women are my reason for living,’ he wrote in his famous song Mujer (‘Woman’). Early on, in one of the cabarets where he played, a woman once cut his face with a bottle: the scar became an integral part of his iconic image as one of Latin America’s most popular composer-singers.
He recorded his first song, Imposible, in 1928 and went on to write an enormous number of hits that generations of Latin Americans have known by heart. He made the Cuban bolero form his own, smoothing out its syncopations and changing it from 2/4 to 4/4 to free the words from strict dependence on the rhythm. He was a natural poet, writing highly memorable lyrics remarkable for their haiku-like ability to conjure up complex situations in few words. Hugely popular in his lifetime, performing to capacity audiences all over the Americas, he had a weekly radio programme called An Intimate Hour with Agustín Lara and also composed for and appeared in Mexican films and plays.
His international significance is celebrated with statues of him not only in Veracruz, Monterrey and Mexico City but also in Madrid and Los Angeles.
Profile © Jan Fairley
Agustín Lara Tracks