Author: Jill Kimball

Mexican-American singer Lila Downs comes to Boulder

Downs’ unique folk-pop music touches on immigration and Mexican culture.

Several decades ago, a young Mixtec Indian woman left her village behind to sing in the cantinas of Mexico City. It was in one of those famed cantinas that a University of Minnesota professor heard the woman sing and fell head over heels.

Today, that improbable couple’s daughter, singer/songwriter Lila Downs, weaves together her parents’ backgrounds in song to produce a sound that’s unlike any other. She performs for Boulder audiences on Saturday, March 3 at Macky Auditorium, as part of CU Presents’ Artist Series.

The Los Angeles Times says she “has a stunning voice [and] a confident multicultural vision.” The New York Times praises her “multiple voices, from an airborne near-falsetto down to a forthright alto and a sultry, emotive contralto.”

Even if you haven’t heard the name Lila Downs, you might have heard her sing at the 75th Academy Awards, or in the films “Tortilla Soup” and “Real Women Have Curves.” Or maybe you saw her take the stage at the 2017 Latin Grammys between performances by “Despacito” singer Luis Fonsi and “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda.

The folk-pop singer is suddenly everywhere, and that’s no surprise. Not only is her classically trained yet radio-friendly voice one of a kind, but the words she writes, influenced by a childhood of constant travel between Minnesota and Oaxaca, also resonate with today’s Mexican-born DREAMers and workers trying to make ends meet in the United States.

On her 2015 album “Balas y Chocolate” (“Bullets and Chocolate”), the title track expresses anguish at the violence many rural Mexicans see every day (“There are bullets that go flying throughout the world”) and amazement at those who bravely endure it (“There are no bullets that pierce the strength of this love”).

“This album,” says the Financial Times, “looks death and joy—the bullets and chocolates of the title—squarely in the face and accepts both.”

Across all her recordings and performances, Downs personifies both bullets and chocolate, taking a hard, piercing look at current social issues yet singing about them in dulcet and festive tones —as if to acknowledge that even in dark times, there’s always something to celebrate.

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