Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Lila Downs, straddling the border

"In the U.S., we've gone through a lot of fear. The idea was to heal, to 'shake away' the anger and hate. We also went through a lot of political trouble in my birthplace of Oaxaca, and sometimes we distance ourselves from the pain. We cannot forget or hide, but we must be positive. Since I was young, it's important for me to bring different people together, race-wise and religion-wise."

-Lila Downs on her latest album

Although several quality albums came out yesterday, right now I'm going to tell you about Mexican-American singer Lila Downs' latest Shake Away. If you're not familiar with Lila, she was born in Mexico and then moved to LA at an early age, and went back and forth several times in the course of staking her direction in life (her mother was a Mexican cabaret singer and her father a Scot who worked as an art professor in America). Although she's been making music since 1994, her big break north of the border came in 2002 as a cast member and performer on the soundtrack for the movie Frida, which starred Selma Hayek as the Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo.

Since then she's continued to make music that draws upon the duality of her ancestry. Some songs are pulled from cultural traditions and stories from her native Mexico (listen to Los Pollos, or "The Chickens" in English, for an example, a traditional song from the state of Veracruz with some improvised lyrics as is customarily done), some focus on the present day experiences of those people (Minimum Wage, below, is a perfect example of this - if you've ever been through the croplands of California you know what this song targets), and others are universal truths or feelings. As the subjects vary, so does the language the songs are conveyed with. Some tracks are performed in English, some in Spanish, and others in a combination.

Also of note on the album are a cover of Lucinda Williams' I Envy the Wind and Black Magic Woman, the song originally performed by Fleetwood Mac but immortalized by another Mexican's version - Carlos Santana. Don't let the album's bilingual approach drive you away. Lila's voice will elegantly and powerfully draw you in whether you can understand it or not.

Visit her website, her label Manhattan Records, and become her friend on MySpace.


Upcoming Tour Dates

13-Sep Washington, DC Kennedy Center
15-Sep New York, NY Town Hall, Mexican Independence Day
18-Sep Boulder, CO E Town Boulder Theatre
19-Sep Albuquerque, NM Globalquerque
21-Sep Los Angeles, CA Hollywood Bowl (w/Nortec, Michael Franti, & Ozomatli)
22-Sep San Diego, CA House of Blues
24-Sep Portland, OR Wonder Ballroom
25-Sep Seattle, WA Moore Theatre (support act: Leroy Bell)
27-Sep San Jose, CA San Jose Mariachi Festival (w/Linda Ronstadt & Aida Cuevas)
28-Sep San Jose, CA Plaza de Cesar Chavez
30-Sep Chicago, IL Harris Theatre

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