The artist, who has very much become the voice of Mexico, has passionately been investigating the rich culture of her country for many years now. In the hands of Lila Downs and her band, the historical repertoire is moving on a discerning, contemporary level. A development which not least can be attributed to her life in the melting pot of New York, which is a completely different world from that of her youth in Minnesota and the Sierra Madre mountains of Oaxaca.
Living in such varied environments, Downs took after her mother’s stage career by singing mariachi tunes at the age of 8. Her career continued to evolve, studying voice as a teenager in Los Angeles and then in Oaxaca City at Bellas Artes, before graduating with a double degree in voice and anthropology from the University of Minnesota. But it was only through music that Downs reconciled her heritage. “It took a long time to decide that I wanted to sing,” she says. “Something needed to mo-tivate me.”That motivation was the songs and stories of the Oaxacan people. Her Mixtec mother spurred Downs on to sing songs with sentimiento — a deep, almost empathic emotion which has left audiences of all cultures and countries spellbound. Composing became an important artistic and cultural outlet for Lila Downs.
The albums released by Peregrina
In 1997 she released her exceptional debut album, LA SANDUNGA; TREE OF LIFE followed in 2000.
Life on the borderline was the central theme of her next album, BORDER/LA LINEA. Dedicated to Mexican migrants, the collection of songs shows both the misery of the foreign workers, as well as of indigenous peoples who suffer from deprivation and racism. Accompanied by Pre-Columbian and Mexican folklore instruments, Lila Downs integrates jazz, gospel and hip-hop sounds in the traditional cumbias and creates a strong musical, cultural and political statement.
One year later, she released ONE BLOOD / UNA SANGRE. This album represents a synthesis of her musical mission. She identifies strongly with her indigenous roots, but at the same time combines the traditional with the modern. In doing so, she not only sings in English and Spanish but also in rare Mexican dialects. In 2005 she won the Latin Grammy for the best folk album with ONE BLOOD and was celebrated by the international press as one of the best international world-music artists.
In her last album LA CANTINA: “Entre Copy y Copa...” she concentrates on the extensive repertoire of Mexico’s popular traditional song, the ranchera. The canciones ranchera are usually ballads about heartache, loneliness, love and longing, songs which you would normally hear in the local dance bars. The musical tradition can be compared to the Portuguese Fado or blues, very sensitive, often lamenting, always with an emotional depth. Lila Downs and her partner, the multi-instrumentalist Paul Cohen, describe it as follows: “La Cantina puts the smile of an accomplice on the face of every spectator in the audience. Because virtually everybody enjoys going into a bar for a few drinks, and then crying over his favourite songs. We all can remember times when we have said, “I’m not crying. It’s just the smoke in my eyes.”
The DVD - Loteria Cantada
“At a time when Mexico’s rich native styles are being shunned as old-fashioned or
irrelevant, Lila Downs offers a fresh, modern document that joyfully reveals the rich
well of inspiration.”
Los Angeles Times on the Grammy Award Nov./ 2005.
Twelve popular songs from the last albums La Cantina, Una Sangre/One Blood and
Border/La Linea have now been made into colourful videos. Film artists Elena Pardo
and Johnny Moreno have captured some striking impressions for this exceptional
DVD. Also included: interviews with Lila Downs on her music, a documentary of the
band on tour, a recording of three discussions between Lila Downs and a variety of Mexican celebrities as well as five impressive short films on various topics. Apart from the vibrant joie de vivre and musical culture that oozes from every pore of this colourful production, the focus is, as always with Lila Downs and her group, very much on social commitment. A joy for all fans of the Grammy winner.