LILA DOWNS (MEXICO/US)
Sporting long, jet-black plaits, brightly coloured huipils (sleeveless Native American tunics) and rebozo shawls, Lila Downs cuts a stylish figure on any stage. She's an intense, theatrical performer who seems to inhabit the characters of her songs, not just through empathetic body language but also with her extraordinary ability as a mimic and a startling vocal range.
Born in 1968 to a North American father and a Mixtec Indian mother, she grew up shuttling between Mexico and the U.S. and thus grappled with issues of identity. Lila actually started singing rancheras (an immensely popular, melodramatic and diverse Mexican genre) when she was five and later studied voice and anthropology. You can also still hear echoes of her early operatic ambitions in her voice.
In the early 1990s, when asked to translate documents relating to the deaths of people who had attempted to cross the U.S./Mexico border, she became inspired to tell their stories by writing songs. She also began to work with local groups in Oaxaca and met her musical partner and husband Paul Cohen, who now plays bass in her wonderful pan-American band.
Since the turn of the century, a series of remarkably consistent albums mixing rock, reggae and even rap influences with a wide variety of indigenous Mexican styles and languages have brought her increasing critical acclaim. In fact, this is her third nomination for these awards. She began her recording career with La Sundunga (1997), but it wasn’t until Tree Of Life (1999) that she really hit her stride, singing several songs entirely in Náhuatl, Zapotec and Mixtec. With Border/La Linea (2001), she returned to the subject of the Mexican/American border, and she was nominated for an Oscar for her cameo appearance in the movie Frida (2003). Her 2004 album Una Sangre/One Blood earned her a Latin Grammy, as well as extending her linguistic and stylistic range. With La Cantina (2006),she’s made a faithful return to her ranchera roots. Legendary Tejano accordionist Flaco Jimenez makes several luminous contributions, and Lila tackles original and traditional cumbias, waltzes, corridos and more with all the chutzpah fans have come to expect of her.
Lila Downs' website
Album Review on bbc.co.uk/music
Read other people's comments then Tell us what you think:
claudia Phoenix, Arizona
Victor / Mexico
Lilia Dinuba Ca
MARICELA DE MEXICO
Lesley Forrest Winchester