Guest DJ Lila Downs: The Music That Makes Her Fierce

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Mexican American artist Lila Downs i i

hide captionMexican American artist Lila Downs

courtesy of the artist
Mexican American artist Lila Downs

Mexican American artist Lila Downs

courtesy of the artist

English / Spanish

The musical vision of Lila Downs comes from the unique intersection of her circumstances and cultures. She was raised in Minneapolis by her American father and by her mother in Oaxaca in southern Mexico.

In this very personal edition of our Guest DJ series, Downs says she grew up spending one entire year with each of her parents, who were not divorced but lived most of the year in separate households. The music she heard in her two homes was split between the jazz her father loved and her mother's preference for popular ranchera singers and other forms of Mexican music.

That difference is not as disparate as it seems. Miles Davis' music has the same subtle beauty as a well-written bolero. Think about it: Miles' haunting lyricism and the soft, muted tones of his trumpet evoke the same smoldering passion as singing "Ya no estas a mi lado corazon, adorarte para mi fue una religion" (I'll translate that line though it sounds better in Spanish: You are no longer at my side, dear. Adoring you was a religion for me).

Downs' music is bicultural at its core. It is impssible to detect where the lines are drawn, though there are hints within the songs she brought in to tell her life story: Mercedes Sosa and Bob Dylan are cut from the same poetic and activist cloth; the anguish and passion of Lola Beltran's mariachi song is a dead ringer for Nina Simone's blues; and Celso Piña's rockin' accordion jumps out of the speakers as intensely as the Jimi Hendrix songs Downs grew up with.

The music she writes is driven as much by mission as introspection. Though we hear only one song of hers in this show, it wasn't deliberate — it just worked out that way. This is an instance of music by a range of artists offering insight into another artist's creativity.

Downs certainly cherishes her past on both sides of the border, but she is always looking forward, creating music that asks as many questions as it answers. Her new album Peacados Y Milagros is another example of that duality in her growing body of work.

Listen in and let us know what you think.

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English / Spanish

Esta semana en Alt.Latino: Invitada Especial Lila Downs

La visión musical de Lila Downs nace de su circumstancia única de haber nacido y crecido en una intersección cultural: se crió entre Minneapolis con su padre estadounidense y en Oaxaca junto a su madre mexicana.

Cada tanto nos gusta invitar a un artista a que comparta su música favorita con nosotros. En esta occasion, Downs nos cuenta que cuando era chica pasaba un año con cada uno de sus padres, quienes no estaban divorciados pero vivían la mayor parte del año separados (ya que su madre amaba Oaxaca y su padre era profesor universitario en Estados Unidos). Como resultado Lila escuchaba música muy variada: en la casa de su padre, amante del jazz, se escuchaba a Miles Davis. Y en el hogar de su madre, fanática de la musica ranchera, se oía a Lola Beltrán y otros íconos de la música tradicional mexicana.

Pueden parecer dos géneros muy distintos pero no lo son: la música de Miles Davis tiene exáctamente la misma belleza sútil de un bolero bien escrito. Las letras espeluznantes de Miles, junto a su sutil trompeta, evocan los mismos sentimientos de pasión a fuego lento que las letras "Ya no estas a mi lado corazón, adorarte para mi fue una religión."

La música que escribe y canta Lila Downs refleja estas influencias. Profundamente bicultural, es imposible detectar las fronteras geográficas que dividen a los artistas que la han influenciado. Por ejemplo, la cantante argentina Mercedes Sosa y el legendario Bob Dylan son cortados de la misma madera
activista; la angustia y la pasión de las canciones mariachi de Lola Beltrán también existen en el blues de Nina Simone; y el acordeón de Celso Piña vibra con la misma intensidad que la guitarra de Jimi Hendrix, otro ídolo de la juventud de Downs.

Y a pesar de que este show resultó ser un homenaje a los músicos que la han inspirado, Downs siempre esta mirando hacia el futuro, formulando tantas preguntas como respuestas. Su nuevo album, Pecados Y Milagros, es otro ejemplo de esta dualidad.

Espero que disfruten del programa tanto como lo hicimos nosotros, y compartan sus opiniones en la sección para comentarios.

Black Magic Woman: Guest DJ With Lila Downs

Cover for Kind of Blue

Miles Davis

  • Album: Kind of Blue
  • Song: Blue in Green

Coming at you from: USA

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  • "Blue in Green"
  • Album: Kind of Blue
  • Artist: Miles Davis
  • Label: Sony
  • Released: 1959
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Cover for 30 Años

Mercedes Sosa

  • Album: 30 Años
  • Song: Gracias a la Vida

Coming at you from: Argentina

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  • "Gracias a la Vida"
  • Album: 30 Años
  • Artist: Mercedes Sosa
  • Label: Universal Music Latino
  • Released: 1994
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Lola Beltrán

  • Album: Lola la Grande
  • Song: Popurrí Ranchero: Paloma Negra/Huapango Torero/Gorrioncillo Pecho ...

Coming at you from: Mexico

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  • "Popurrí Ranchero: Paloma Negra/Huapango Torero/Gorrioncillo Pecho ..."
  • Album: Lola la Grande
  • Artist: Lola Beltrán
  • Label: Orfeon
  • Released: 2003
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Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan

  • Album: Freewheelin' Bob Dylan [Remastered]
  • Song: Masters of War

Coming at you from: USA

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  • "Masters of War"
  • Album: Freewheelin' Bob Dylan [Remastered]
  • Artist: Bob Dylan
  • Label: Sony Music Distribution
  • Released: 1963
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Orishas

  • Album: A Lo Cubano
  • Song: A Lo Cubano

Coming at you from: Cuba

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Nina Simone

  • Album: Best of Nina Simone [PolyGram]
  • Song: Four Women

Coming at you from: USA

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  • "Four Women"
  • Album: Best of Nina Simone [PolyGram]
  • Artist: Nina Simone
  • Label: Verve
  • Released: 1969
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Lhasa de Sela

  • Album: La Llorona
  • Song: El Payande

Coming at you from: Mexico/USA

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Celso Piña y Su Ronda Bogota

  • Album: 20 Grandes Exitos
  • Song: Cumbia Sobre el Río

Coming at you from: Mexico

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  • "Cumbia Sobre el Río"
  • Album: 20 Grandes Exitos
  • Artist: Celso Pina y Su Ronda Bogota
  • Label: WEA International
  • Released: 2005
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Beirut

  • Album: March of the Zapotec
  • Song: Akara

Coming at you from: USA

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  • "Akara"
  • Album: March of the Zapotec
  • Artist: Beirut
  • Label: Pompeii/Ba Da Bing!
  • Released: 2009
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