Official album art from Pecados y Milagros.
The influence of nearby Latin borders has become almost another element in modern American culture, and with rising Mexican songstress, Lila Downs, perpetuating her music further onto the circuit, the melting pot gets even richer.
A “reinvention” of traditional Mexican music blended with blues, jazz, soul, African, and Klezmer, Downs takes sound and adds her own worldly ingredients. Capitalizing on the age of fusion culture and transnational identity, this Grammy-award winning artist rides the tide of global identity with a style that’s decidedly both indigenous and post-modern, loud and soft, and filled with inspiration. Originally from Oaxaca, Mexico, Downs is not new to the business, and in fact, has released 11 albums to date, beginning with 1994’s Ofrenda and most recently, Pecados y Milagros last year. She sings the story of her people and of the visions spiraling around her. It’s a deeper take on the psychological consequences of political upheaval, and a search into the soul of human lament.
“I am the queen of the underground, a tombstone is my crown,” she sings in her record, “El Palomo del Comali.”
Her lyrics follow the narratives of immigrant life, feminist identity and drug wars that continue to tear down her nation. Sometimes they are questions with no answers; other times they are proffered solutions for debate.
“Well, they chased me through the desert, then the agents strapped me down; Then they ask me why in Spanish; Why you keep on comin’ back? When I left my dad in Jersey, and my sister in Des Moines; They’ve been workin’ in this country; Pickin’ lettuce, washing floors,” Downs chants in her song, “Minimum Wage.”
Music may be her forte, but this multi-faceted performer also has her eyes set on Hollywood. She played a role in the 2002 film Frida while also singing a song on the Oscar-nominated soundtrack, titled “Burn It Blue.” That year, she became the first Mexican artist to perform at the awards ceremony. Furthermore, her music has been featured on Tortilla Soup, Real Women Have Curves, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, and, according to her bio, she is “working on the musical theater presentation of Like Water for Chocolate, the award winning novel and film by Mexican author Laura Esquivel.”
Since the Mexican fire fuels deep within, audiences can expect a live show from Downs equally as vivid as her recordings. As one reviewer commented on her recent performance at Austin’s SXSW Festival, “You know it’s a good party when the singer swigs from a bottle of tequila, then balances it on top of her head.”
Because her travels have taken her far and wide, and additionally, her studies in the States allotted her planting on American soil, Downs is able to express a vast field of interest in her work. She performs alongside her longtime band, La Misteriosa, and her husband and collaborator, Paul Cohen.
Currently wrapping a tour, Downs hit another major milestone last month when her film, Mariachi Gringo, premiered as the opening night film at the Miami International Film Festival. The movie marks the first time the talented entertainer has been cast as the lead in a picture.
What’s next for Downs? Everything, as it appears even the sky is not limit for her career.