Five Questions with Lila Downs


For years, Lila Downs has melded her powerful multilingual vocals with musical arrangements that engagingly blend the sounds of our global village. Of mixed heritage herself, the signature syncretism that has come to define her artistic presentation has been most recently evidenced by the release in late June of the appropriately Spanglish titled anthology The Very Best of el Alma de Lila Downs. The Oaxaca-born singer's commanding range will be echoing through the Grove of Anaheim this Wednesday, but before that, Downs made time to speak with the Weekly about her music.

Q: Were your last two albums of original recordings interrelated in a progressive manner? La Cantina was imbued with the raw expunging of emotions that rancheras traditionally embody and 'Shake Away,' your latest, carries with it an affirmative spirit of transformation.

A: Both of the overall themes of the CDs have a lot to do with what I was going through emotionally at those times in my life. I needed to cry a lot–and drink a little too–during the period of La Cantina and most of the vibe of Shake Away is shaking off those sad feelings and moving towards healing and transformation as you say.

Q: As you will be performing soon in Anaheim, what concepts do you bring into your live performances? Is it much more than just music? Is sentimiento the key element?

A: That is exactly what my mother told me as I was growing up and starting to sing. You need to sing with sentimiento above everything else. Our live performances are always very special since we are fortunate to play with a great band and usually there is a special chemistry with those people who come out to experience it.

Q: Oaxaca and New York are two geographic centers of your life that are very different in many ways. How do they play into your presentation as a musician?

A: Both places have very special qualities that influence our music. New York, of course, has the edge of things that are always changing, and Oaxaca is the place that is so deeply spiritual and reminds one of the eternal elements, especially within the indigenous cultures there.

Q: On Shake Away, you have a number of interesting collaborations, but the most striking duet is your song “Tierra de Luz” with the legendary folk singer Mercedes Sosa. What was the experience like recording and performing with one of the most revered voices of Latin America?

A: Incredible. Mercedes Sosa has always been one of my main influences both vocally and spiritually, and the chance to perform with her is one of the very special moments in my life.  

Q: You have recently released the “greatest hits” compilation The Very Best of el Alma de Lila Downs. How has this album given you a chance to reflect on the career you have built through the years and conversely where do you see your future?

A: It's wonderful to hear all the music from different periods of our musical voyage on one compilation. The future, of course, is always unfolding, and we are very excited to be writing the music for the theater adaptation of Like Water for Chocolate to be presented in 2010 by the Public Theater of New York City. Also, there is a mariachi CD on the horizon that we are very happy to be working on.

Lila Downs with Mamak Khadem at the Grove of Anaheim, 2200 E. Katella Ave., (714) 712-2700; Wed., 8 p.m. $25-35. All ages.

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