New York’s Museum of Modern Art will show all of Spanish director Pedro Almodóvar’s films as part of a month-long tribute starting Nov. 29, which coincides with the premiere in U.S. theaters of his 20th film, Julieta.
When Almódovar first opened international eyes to Madrid’s post-Franco cultural explosion, la movida, with his early films, he also showcased some of the music he performed in clubs with the artist known as Fabio McNamara. Some of the songs that could be considered the duo’s “classics” include “Suck it to Me” and “Voy a Ser Mama” (“I’m Going to Be a Mom”), which — shocking for the era in Spain — they performed in drag. The singer Alaska, an underground icon whose career has since lasted as long as Almodóvar’s, had a starring role in the director’s gritty first feature Pepi, Luci, Bom y Otras Chicas del Montón.
But over the years, Almodóvar became best known for his strong female roles, and his soundtracks full of the muscular-voiced female artists he featured. Over the years, by sharing some of his own favorite artists through his movies, Almodóvar has introduced his beloved Latin icons to new listeners, and boosted the careers of contemporary artists.
Here are some of Almodóvar’s greatest hits:
Luz Casal, “Piensa en Mi” from Tacones Lejanos (High Heels)
Spanish singer Luz Casal interpreted two emotional ballads in 1991’s Tacones Lejanos (High Heels). “Un Año de Amor” is lip-synched in the movie by Miguel Bosé, one of Spain’s biggest pop stars, whose character uses the song in his drag act. Meanwhile, the Latin standard “Piensa en Mi,” by Mexican composer Agustín Lara, was made popular by the heart-ripping version sung by Chavela Vargas.
Casal’s own gorgeous recordings of the two songs were big hits for the singer. They were both included on her quadruple-platinum 1991 album, A contraluz.
Dúo Dinámico, “Resistiré” from ¡Átame! (Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!)
In this great scene from 1990’s ¡Átame!, Antonio Banderas and co-stars Victoria Abril and Loles León are in a car singing along to “Resistiré,” a kitschy radio hit for Spain’s Dúo Dinámico. Watch Banderas tentatively preview the sing-talk vocal style he’d hone for the movie musical Evita later in the decade.
La Lupe, “Puro Teatro” from Mujeres al Borde de un Ataque de Nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown)
Almodóvar’s 1988 dramedy Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown was the director’s international breakthrough. With it, he also introduced his love of romantic ballads to the world.
The Oscar-nominated movie includes “Soy infeliz,” performed by Mexican ranchera queen Lola Beltrán. Women also features La Lupe’s signature, “Puro Teatro,” re-focusing attention on the Cuban singer years before the more recent revival of her New York label, Fania Records.
Estrella Morente, “Volver” from Volver
Penelope Cruz sings the tango’s classic ode to nostalgia, “Volver,” in the 2006 Almodóvar movie of the same name. That bewitching voice actually belongs to singer Estrella Morente. Flamenco royalty in Spain, Morente saw her star rise further internationally after the release of the film, and the inclusion of the song on her album Mujeres the same year.
Caetano Veloso, “Cucurrucucu Paloma” from Hable Con Ella (Talk to Her)
Brazilian music fans got a thrill when tropicalismo legend Caetano Veloso appeared in a party scene in the 2002 movie Talk to Her, performing the often-covered Mexican standard “Cucurrucucu Paloma.”
Concha Buika,“Se Me Hizó Facil,” from La Piel Que Habito (The Skin I Live In)
With her soul-baring singing and iconoclastic style, Buika was a natural match for Almodóvar. He cast her as a singer in the 2011 movie La Piel Que Habito. She performs two songs on the soundtrack: “Se Me Hizó Facil” and “Por el Amor de Amar.”
Chavela Vargas, “Si No te Vas” from Julieta
“With the emphasis that Chavela put at the end of a song she created, a new genre that should be named for her,” Almodóvar said of his friend, the great bolero singer Chavela Vargas, who died in 2012. Almodóvar called her a “volcano.” A recording of Vargas singing the bolero “Si No Te Vas” brings the heat to the new film Julieta.