The two lives of Lila Downs
Published: March 7, 2012
Lila Downs is as American as apple pie and as Mexican as tequila, but her looks and sound have an undeniable agave aftertaste.
Born in Oaxaca in 1968 from a native Mixtec Mexican mother and a British-American father, she moved to Minnesota in her teens and lived on both sides of the border for most of her life. Her eight studio albums are an increasingly sophisticated blend of ancient Mexican folk, Latin American and Caribbean popular music (anything from cumbia to reggae), and contemporary world music and rock, but it is her voice what makes all the difference. Possessing an amazing range that goes from the most tender, lower-key whispers to high-pitched operatic wails, her voice is full of shades that, at times, feel like they are coming from the center of the Earth.
Her latest album, Pecados y milagros (Sins and Miracles, released in October) is yet another venture into that yesterday/today hybrid, and her first as the adoptive mother of a son. "It wasn't in my path to be a biological mother, but naturally I tried to find a solution," she told Latina magazine. The album includes a slow-tempo version of Marco Antonio Solís' "Tu cárcel" (Your jail) and collaborations with Monterrey accordionist Celso Piña, Colombian Afro folk singer singer Totó La Momposina, and Argentine rap duo Illya Kuryaki & the Valderramas.
She returns to San Antonio, one of her favorite stops, celebrating the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center's 25th anniversary with a concert at the Laurie Auditorium on March 11. She spoke to the Current in Spanish from her home in Oaxaca while taking a break from writing her next album: a musical version of Laura Esquivel's Like Water For Chocolate. •
On why she used to dye her hair blonde as a teenager
You grow up watching Televisa and all the [soap opera] stars there are blonde with blue eyes. Some are morenas, but not too many. And you get used to that. When I was studying in Minnesota I was surrounded by Norwegians, Swedes, and Germans, so I was denying who I really was, I guess. After university I became a "deadhead" for a while, following the Grateful Dead, and decided to investigate life. And it was there that I found my real self and let my black hair grow. I realized a lot of things we seldom talk about openly, like our true indigenous identity of which I am proud.
On San Antonio
It's a very special place for me. It represents a time of Mexico we all miss. It makes me think of the revolution and the times before there was a border. It reminds me of Mexico, but it's also Mexico, isn't it? I think Mexican-American Tejanos feel special, unlike anyone else. And my friends there, like Graciela [Sánchez, Esperanza director] and Flaco Jiménez, are warriors. I wish I could go there more often. I love it.
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