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Spotlights [Issue # 9 ]
Lila Downs: Singing For The Soul Of It

By Ken Micallef


Part medium of music, part anthropologist of the heart, Lila Downs performs rare ritual magic on One Blood Una Sangre. Combining her native Indian Mexican music with influences as far reaching as acid rock, reggae and deep blues, Downs seemingly pulls sounds from the sky to create her mysterious music.

“I tried to take very seriously what it means to be a singer and that doesn’t mean that I always feel inspired,” she says while on tour in Mexico City. “It is a constant search, just like life.
Questioning yourself, why we are here and what our place is. The music has made me a more peaceful person and through music we can come together through many cultures. That is important in these times.”

Sung mostly in Spanish, the songs of Una Sangre are startling in their richness and assimilation of cultures. Downs covers musical bases like an ambassador circumnavigating the globe in sound, and her flexible band meets every turn with grace and agility. One song, Downs is crooning a mad hymn like some grizzled voodoo priestess, the next she is swaying on the breeze of a balmy reggae groove. Throughout, her music is earthy and lusty, as if summoned from the hills of Mexico that she so dearly loves.

“What I am referring to in my songs are the images that I grew up loving, which are the mountains and the rivers, and having respect for Mother Nature that we all come from. In that as women we have inherited this beauty and this freedom but what I am asking in this album is about the creation of humanity and about how we are dealing with problems and all the complicated issues of the day. I look to nature to remind us about where we come from. The earth and the ocean. If we commit excesses in the end we will pay for them according to the laws of this universe.”

Born of a US university professor and a Mixteca Indian mother who sang in Mexico City when she was young, Downs initially turned her back on her heritage, only to embrace it years later. With a double degree in anthropology and voice (and after abandoning a questionable Grateful Dead fixation), she settled in her mother’s home town of Oaxaca, Mexico where she began to research her roots, both musical and cultural. Music became her focus as she released several albums, of which one song won Best Original Latin Jazz composition in a poll of Philadelphia area music lovers. As well as jazz, Downs developed a unique folkloric singing style which came to fruition on 2000’s Tree of Life, its lyrics taken largely from the ancient religious texts of the Mixteca and Zapotec people.

“I think people can relate to the subjects of these songs,” Downs says. “Even in times like these, I believe that there is something good within us, kind of like the Buddhists believe that there is a little Buddha inside us that is like a child and has no hate and no fear. When things are getting serious, I believe we should look at the beauty in life and not so much at the differences as they separate us but more try to love those differences. The diversity of who we are is what makes this place so interesting.”


One Blood Una Sangre
Narada

Singing For The Soul Of It Lila Downs One Blood Una Sangre


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