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Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, LILA DOWNS is the daughter of Mixtec singer Anita Sánchez and Allen Downs, who was a Scottish-American art professor. She grew up in Oaxaca, California, and Minnesota, where she graduated from the University of Minnesota in voice and anthropology. Her musical vision is anthropological in nature, as varied as the ancient and earthy cultures that continue to nurture and inspire her. Downs is usually accompanied on her musical journey by her longtime band, La Misteriosa, multi-cultural multi-instrumentalists who include Paul Cohen – her collaborator, producer, and husband.
The topics of her music are often political and social justice, immigration, and transformation, all rooted in the human condition. She strives to make a meaningful connection with her diverse audiences through her music and performances. “I’m so lucky,” remarks Downs. “People who follow our music are from all walks of life, and they want to scratch the surface to know the whys and hows. Every day we get to connect in so many ways.”
For over a decade, Lila Downs has traversed the planet, bringing her dramatic and highly unique reinvention of traditional Mexican music and original compositions fused with blues, jazz, soul, African root, and even klezmer music, all supporting her soaring voice. Some would classify Lila as a Mexican artist, but there is no real way to categorize her music except to say that it is a unique and exciting fusion of international sounds. A musical journey with Lila Downs is always a fascinating one, simultaneously edgy and powerful, yet sumptuous and graceful.
Sometimes the sound feels like a heat fueled road trip from Oaxaca to New Orleans. But then Downs is not afraid to shake things up with a cumbia rock, beat-poet style rap, or even the chirps of an iguana, taking the music to its own enigmatic world. The path can also unexpectedly lead to ancient worlds, when Lila taps into the native Mesoamerican music and language of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya, and Nahuatl cultures. Few artists can successfully navigate the terrain of such seemingly disparate music. But Lila Downs and La Misteriosa go to the core of it, make it their own, and bring the audience along for an emotional and memorable ride.
Lila Downs has long been recognized by the music industry, receiving a Latin Grammy for the 2004 release Una Sangre and a Grammy nomination for 2008?s Shake Away, which was also named one of the top ten albums by the leading world-music organization WOMEX. In addition to headlining venues all over the world, she has appeared at major festival and events, including the Sacred Music Festival, appearing with such luminaries as the Dalai Lama; WOMAD; and the Latino Inaugural Ball for President Barack Obama.
Hollywood also took notice when Lila played a role in the Selma Hayek film Frida and performed the Oscar-nominated soundtrack song “Burn It Blue” on the Academy Awards telecast, becoming the first Mexican to perform on the awards ceremony. Her music has been included in several other feature films, such as Tortilla Soup, Real Women Have Curves, and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.