Theater of Cruelty


Lila Downs invites you to a wonderful, moist party.


[mexico] When I hear Mexican Lila Downs singing, I feel the smell of sunny grass and heavy perfume, the taste of chili and cigar, the sight of big-flowered dresses and black shawls. The feeling of a past and present that glides into each other. Some parties I should have been to, some dances I should have danced on high heels, even though I can't. Some boundaries that do not exist.

This year's record, La Cantina, is the sixth in a row, considering the soundtrack to the film Frida. And you certainly should. Who else could have transformed Frida Kahlo's life and canvases into music just as well as Lila Downs?

As the daughter of a Scottish-American filmmaker and a Mixec Indian singer, Lila was able to move effortlessly between the United States and Mexico throughout her upbringing. Only as an adult did she realize how many of her Mexican compatriots sacrificed – and continue to sacrifice – their lives in an attempt to cross that border. This resulted in the album La Linea / Border (2001). There she explores and challenges musical and geographical boundaries, and criticizes capitalism, the North American free trade agreements and the exploitation of immigrants in the United States. In 2004 came Una Sangre / One Blood, among other things with the dark song «Dignificada». It is about the Mexican human rights lawyer Digna Ochoa, who died under mysterious circumstances in 2002.

While still considering a career as a classical singer, Lila Down studied anthropology. Today, she continually crosses the two paths she then considered, roaming Mexico's rich musical treasury and playing with boleros, salsa, cumbias and rancheros. She retells forgotten stories and invents new ones, blowing dust off old melodies and composing her own. Still, it is the voice that first and foremost enchants you – dry, dark, warm and dramatic, as in a Portuguese fado singer.

At La Cantina, she has covered a party at a bar in her hometown of Oaxaca, with, among others, the phenomenal accordionist Flaco Jimenez as a guest. The choice of instruments and arrangements otherwise may not always be as convincing – there will be a lot of eager electric guitar à la the 1970s from time to time. But the mood is screwed into the ceiling already from the opening song "La Cumbia del Mole", and then the glasses and mood swing between the cheerful, melodramatic and melancholic, just like a proper fiesta should, with or without cigars and high heels.

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