Lila Downs: A Dangerous Woman and Her Music

“It’s about going back to my roots, in Philadelphia I sang jazz, which has a lot to do with the bolero and the ‘sophisticated music’ from the 40s and 50s”, says Lila Downs, commenting the general vision of her latest album, Salón, Lágrimas y Deseo.

Over the course of her brilliant career, as an artist that is arguably Latinx Music’s greatest living diva, Lila Downs has released nine studio albums, and along the way, garnered a Grammy and four Latin Grammy’s.

Salón, Lágrimas Y Deseo takes seven classic tunes from that elegant Golden Age of Mexican Music in the 40’s and 50’s composed by musical legends such as Agustin Lara, José Alfredo Jiménez and Alvaro Carrillo, and adds six original songs by Downs.

The album also includes duets with Mon Laferte, Carla Morrison, Diego El Cigala and Andrés Calamaro, which Downs describes as part of her eternal seeking of challenges as a human being and as an artist: “I love collaborations! I learn from them and also, it takes me to different places physically and musically and artistically. Like,  “Un Mundo Raro”, having heard it with El Cigalo, now drives me to look for different ways to express things musically and artistically”.

The classic songs that Downs reinterprets are unmistakably ‘Downs’: beautifully textured sonic scenarios where her voice glides through the air imbuing musical notes with more burning longing than one ever thought possible. However, the six original songs in “Salón, Lágrimas y Deseo” highlight another side of her art, as a piercingly intelligent peligrosa – dangerous woman – whose perspective always places pride in indigenous roots front and center.

This, despite the fact that the album includes song touched by the trumpet riffs from the Spanish pasodoble. Downs explains that it is a nod to the “hispanidad” that is part of us, but at the same time, never forgetting an “in your face” expression of indigenous roots, because “It is important to always show [our] pride and dignity.”

As part of the acknowledgement of the importance of indigenous roots of Mexico, Downs composedSon de Juárez”, which centers on a famous phrase by Zapotec leader Benito Juarez, one which every Mexican student learns and is engraved on hundreds of monuments and government buildings throughout the land: “El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz”, i.e., ‘Among individuals and nations alike, respect for the rights of other people is what constitutes peace’.

She composed the song in tribute to Juarez and his legacy, says Downs, as well as a necessary and powerful reminder of who we are. Music can do all of this, says Downs, as well as be vital to our survival:  “Music has saved my life! At times I would be so discouraged because of what was happening with my culture and in my nation. And then a song reminded me of what is important. And so, I will continue to compose and sing with great conviction.”

Lila Downs will perform at Ravinia on July 1.

Check out Beat Latino‘s specials on Chicago Summer 2017 Music and Divas which feature music by Lila Downs.

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