Charo has always prided herself in her innate ability to entertain audiences—whether performing her inimitable disco dance hits “Stay With Me,” “Dance A Little Bit Closer,” and “Cuchi, Cuchi” in concert or appearing on TV shows like The Love Boat, The Tonight Show, and Dancing with the Stars.
But earlier this year, after her longtime husband, Swedish-born businessman Kjell Rasten, committed suicide, she had little left to give. Even getting out of bed and having simple interactions with friends and family was too challenging.
“The first weeks, I locked myself in my bedroom and couldn’t speak,” Charo told 48 Hills.
But once the Spanish entertainer (born María Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Baeza) took to Instagram to share her painful story in a series of revealing posts, she realized just how many others are struggling with similar issues.
That’s when the queen of “cuchi, cuchi,” a flamenco guitar virtuoso credited with creating the bilingual salsa style that’s since been emulated by artists like Ricky Martin and Jennifer Lopez, found her new calling as an advocate for those struggling with depression.
“After five weeks, I looked to my son, my sister, my family, and I said, ‘I gotta be strong and I want to choose life, and in that process make sure that some people can benefit from the catastrophe,’” she said.
The therapy worked both ways and Charo found that she healed as much from her fans’ supportive comments as they did from her confessional posts. The conversations that ensued over social media gave her the courage to get back to the studio and the stage.
Charo even developed an all-new touring show, simply titled Charo! (Fri/20 at the Herbst Theatre), a mix of celebratory dance music and more meditative Flamenco guitar numbers, which she’s eager to debut in San Francisco.
She shared her excitement about returning to The City by the Bay for the first time in over a decade with me—as well as the pain of losing her late husband and how performing helped her survive the devastating loss.
48 HILLS Why are you excited to return to San Francisco?
CHARO San Francisco is like a lucky charm. The audience is caliente and has a great sense of humor and is also sophisticated enough to understand my type of show. Because of the sophistication and love from the audience, I am able to switch to another type of entertainment outside of “cuchi, cuchi” and play my guitar masterpieces.
It’s my first time back to the audience in a few months because in my personal life I have a tragedy. I was not ready to entertain audiences because I was not in the moment of happiness that you need to be in to go onstage and say, “Good evening, let’s have a good time. Let me entertain you.” But I’m healing fast with the music and really very much looking forward to seeing how this beautiful audience welcomes the new show.
48 HILLS What can you tell me about the great tragedy you endured last February?
CHARO My husband put a bullet through his brain and nobody will ever understand why. But I watched a very successful, handsome, and strong man becoming a victim of depression, created sometimes by medication and sometimes by depression and anxiety, after we found out he had a skin condition called bullous pemphigoid.
The only medication available is the anti-inflammatory steroid Prednisone. It’s necessary, but at the same time, there are many cases where in the long-term and especially in withdrawal, that it can provoke the intention to suicide.
48 HILLS How did you survive the days just after he died?
CHARO Very bad. In my case, I was very young when I came to America, and kind of young when I met my husband. My life was so together with his—every minute of every hour—and life was very beautiful with him.
48 HILLS You soon went public with your story with a heartfelt Instagram post and have since become an advocate for those suffering from depression.
CHARO Yes, depression can kill people, but we hide the depression because it’s taboo to talk about it. But when people talk, you can then help someone who was afraid to talk.
With the response from Instagram and the emails I got thanking me for going into the open about the problems in my family and being strong, I learned that there are many people right now thinking about suicide and, to my surprise, a lot of young teenagers. But I think that I helped a lot of people who were very young that were seriously considering terminating their lives.
So I continue to choose life and help people and remind them that life is beautiful. I’m healing myself by doing that.
48 HILLS Did music play a role in helping you to get through the pain?
CHARO Yes, my husband is the love of my life and that’s why I went to the studio and played “Besame Mucho” on the guitar for him. I played my lead guitar in one hand and in another, I accompanied myself with Bossa Nova [on the classical guitar]. It’s just playing a beautiful, romantic song from my heart.
But I will never talk about it from the stage. That’s why I took six months to heal and come back to what I really love—music. Music saved me, and when they see me in San Francisco, they’ll see someone who’s celebrating life.
48 HILLS You’ve done so much in your career. What are some of the accomplishments you’re most proud of?
CHARO Let me take you back in the time machine to when I first came to America and the William Morris Agency president, Norman Brokaw said, “You cannot only have one name. No one in show business has only one name.” I said, “That’s my name and if you don’t want to use it, I don’t care.” Now, everybody does it, and I’m still having so much fun with just one. That also gave me the confidence to say I want to sing in Spanish and English.
I’m also gonna take you to 1979 when I was the first one to bring [the bilingual salsa style] with the song “Dance a Little Bit Closer” and then went a little further when I took a chance with a song called “Borriquito,” which broke records all over.
48 HILLS What’s the most valuable lesson you learned in your career?
CHARO In the beginning, money was very important, so my family can survive. But I learned many years ago that money isn’t very important. The day that I said, “cuchi, cuchi,” it was fun. But the day that I said, “I want to play the guitar,” they said, “Your image is going to be destroyed, because ‘cuchi, cuchi’ is what you’re selling.” I said, “No, the guitar is my passion.”
They were wrong and I showed them that there was an audience that accepted the other person. But that’s what I do. I want to do my best and keep it going. So what I learned early on is that the best thing I can do is be myself.
LISA GEDULDIG & KUNG PAO KOSHER COMEDY™ PRESENT…CHARO!
Fri/20, 8pm, $50-$100
Herbst Theatre, SF
More info here.