Lila Downs – Beyond Borders

Blessed with iconic looks reminiscent of her idol Frida Kahlo, a distinctive vocal style with dusty chocolate tones and a genius for re-imagining Mexico in song, Lila Downs doesn’t so much cross borders as move them about for fun


Her father was a Scottish-American artist. Her mother a Mixteca Indian singer. She grew up in California and settled in Oaxaca and Mexico City. And her partner is from New Jersey. If one person could contain the contradictions of the Americas, it would be Lila. “I don’t think too much about it. When I was younger it was confusing to choose between the cultures, but now I feel I have a little bit of everything and I appreciate it.”

“In Mexico, we live in two worlds, one rooted in tradition and spirituality and one emphasizing the modern way of life…”

As a teen, she drifted away from her mother’s culture and spent time as a ‘deadhead’ before having second thoughts, “I began to realize the richness of Mexican culture and found so many things I always wanted, a closeness to my family and my community.”
“My mother’s side of the family is Mixteca and she and my grandmother have always given me a sense of where they come from. The work I do reflects my connection to this and other indigenous cultures in Mexico by acknowledging the richness they have, be it in music, in the dress, in the food, in their history.”
Her work weaves these traditional aspects into hip hop, reggae, jazz and funk or is it the other way around? As if it matters. “I think there are ways to connect the younger audience to traditional forms with styles like hip hop. We like to experiment with music that way.

“For me, it’s the music that defines Mexico, it’s very deep and very soulful, like blues and fado.”

“In Mexico, we live in two worlds, one rooted in tradition and spirituality and one emphasizing the modern way of life, influenced by American pop culture. I think there are ways to live in balance within both worlds — with a firm foundation in tradition but always keeping a sense of the modern world we live in.”
This fluidity is more naturally present than planned, “We don’t always go into the studio with a set plan. We like to experiment a little and see what comes out. Sometimes I like to do songs in a more traditional way but, if I feel it works and makes sense, I like to take a chance.”
Her latest album is based on that most Mexican form of all, canciones rancheros. A song form incapable of being over-dramatically sung. While many have been drawn to the camp quality of these songs (most notably Pedro Almodovar), Lila’s connection is more visceral and the more powerful for its genuine embrace of the genre, “I started singing rancheras when I was 8 years old and for a long time, I always wanted to record an album with this music. For me, it’s the music that defines Mexico, it’s very deep and very soulful, like blues and fado. There’s something about these songs that has always touched me and I hope it touches other people as well.”
Lila Downs — La cantina (Entre copa y copa) is out now on Narada and Lila Downs’s gig at the Barbican is now on Flykr

One thought on “Lila Downs – Beyond Borders

  1. Hi,
    I was just wondering if you knew when Lila Downs was going to perform in New York again?
    Thank You,
    Sandy Whitney
    Hola,
    Hace mucho tiempo que Lila ha estado en Nueva York para un concierto o una representaci??n. A mis amigas y yo, nos encanta la m??sica de Lila y queremos saber, ¬øsi ella va a estar en Nueva York en los pr??ximos meses?
    Muchas gracias,
    Sandra Whitney

    Like

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