Singer, Songwriter Lhasa De Sela Dies

Mexican-American musician Lhasa de Sela died New Years Day at the age of 37 after a battle with breast cancer. She was known for creating music that was infused with an appreciation of various genres, including Mexican and gypsy folk melodies.

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(Soundbite of music)

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

In the years before her career was cut short, the Mexican-American singer Lhasa de Sela sold a million records. Many kinds of people fell in love with her music and especially her voice. Lhasa de Sela died after a two year battle with cancer at the age of 37. Here's NPR's Vince Pearson.

VINCE PEARSON: Singer Lhasa de Sela was a highly emotional singer who performed a wild mix of musical styles. Her music was passionate, fantastical, carnival-esque.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. LHASA DE SELA (Singer): (Singing in foreign language)

PEARSON: Lhasa, as she's known, was born in upstate New York in 1972. She grew up in a Bohemian family. Her father was Mexican. Her mother was American. They spent much of their time like nomads traveling between the two countries. In a 1998 interview, Lhasa told NPR's Jacki Lyden that the family lived in a series of school buses and trailers filled with music and books.

Ms. DE SELA: My father listened to old Mexican music and old American music too, like oldies. And my mother listened to gypsy music, Arab music, South American and Mexican. And we started performing very early for each other. So by the time I was six years old I would often be doing shows for my whole family that would go on for hours and hours. It was kind of our way of entertaining ourselves.

(Soundbite of song)

Ms. DE SELA: (Singing in foreign language)

PEARSON: In 1997, Lhasa released her first record. La Llorona was a dark, sensual album filled with songs in Spanish about love and loss. Critics said it sounded like Edith Piaf with a Latin twist. Again, Lhasa de Sela.

Ms. DE SELA: When I started singing and I got up on stage, I - a lot of kind of unexpected things started coming out of me. There was a lot of sadness and a lot of rage. And those were the songs that I was attracted to singing. And they were the songs that I felt the most when I was on stage.

PEARSON: Two other records followed. Lhasa sold more than a million copies and she toured the world. On the side she fulfilled another longtime dream, joining her sisters in their traveling French circus. Here she is in another interview with NPR's Jacki Lyden.

Ms. DE SELA: One of my sisters is a contortionist and acrobat. And one of them is a tightrope walker.

JACKI LYDEN: The conversation must never get boring in your family.

Ms. DE SELA: Never. That's not - boredom is not one of the major problems of my family.

PEARSON: Throughout her career, myth and fantasy were major influences. Lhasa grew up reading fairy tales and incorporating them into her songs. Like �Floricanto.�

(Soundbite of song, �Floricanto�)

Ms. DE SELA: (Singing in foreign language)

Ms. DE SELA: I wrote that song with my father. And he had shown me an Aztec poem, and Aztec poetry is all about this conflict that the heart goes through because of loving life and finding life so beautiful and yet knowing that we are - that we are not immortal.

PEARSON: That's Lhasa de Sela speaking in 1998. Last week she died of breast cancer at the age of 37.

Vince Pearson, NPR News.

(Soundbite of song, �Floricanto�)

Ms. DE SELA: (Singing in foreign language)

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