Tavira, one-handed violinist, dies at 84

July 1, 2008 8:01:20 PM PDT
Angel Tavira, a one-handed violinist who dedicated his life to Mexican folk music and won a Cannes Film Festival award for his first movie at age 82, has died. He was 84.

Tavira died of kidney problems Monday in a Mexico City hospital, said Eugenia Montiel, a spokeswoman for Camara Carnal Films, the company that co-produced Tavira's 2005 film "The Violin."

Tavira was born on July 3, 1924, into a family of musicians in the southwestern town of Corralfalso, and started playing the violin at age 6. When he was 13, he lost his right hand while setting off fireworks at a fair. He pursued his music career nonetheless, playing the violin with the bow tied to his stump.

"Being a Tavira meant being a musician," said his cousin Javier Tavira. "It's the family tradition; there were instruments in his grandfather's house. His uncles and cousins helped him work out a way to keep playing."

Mexican director Fernando Vargas made a documentary about Tavira in 2002, and two years later cast him in the fictional film "The Violin." With no previous experience, Tavira won an acting award at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival for his role as the patriarch of a family of street musicians who support an armed rebel movement.

In the documentary, Tavira describes the frustrations of learning how to play with one arm, saying he often wanted to hurl his violin to the floor.

"Just seeing myself tied to the bow, I only wanted to cry," he said. "I started practicing again just like I was learning to play."

Tavira was committed to traditional calentana music from his native Pacific coast state of Guerrero. He taught music to school children and led the Hermanos Tavira Banda folk band.

At 60, he enrolled in the Music Conservatory of Morelia in Michoacan state, studying musical scoring in the hopes of preserving calentana for future generations.

"He is a man who fought his whole life to keep the music of his region alive, teaching new generations and doing it with only one hand," Vargas said in a statement released by the National Arts Council.

Tavila is survived by his wife and 12 children from two marriages.

Load Comments