Biography

Lila Downs has one of the world’s most singular voices and innovative approaches to music. Born in the state of Oaxaca México, she is the daughter of a Mixtec Indian woman, Anastasia Sanchez, who ran away from her village at 15 to sing in Mexico City cantinas and Allen Downs, a University of Minnesota professor. Lila grew up both in Minnesota and Oaxaca, and studied classical voice and cultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota. Her music and vocal artistry have many influences and is as varied as the ancient cultures that serve as her inspiration. Lila’s compositions are often striking commentaries on social conditions, reflecting migration and the search for roots as a core human need. She makes an important and deep connection with her fans, who are of all ages, races, and backgrounds. “I am very fortunate,” Downs says. “People who follow our music belong to all walks of life. Every day we connect with them.”

For two decades Lila Downs has traveled throughout the world reinterpreting the roots of music, from blues, jazz and soul to cumbia, rock, even rap and klezmer music. She weaves various musical forms with traditional Mexican and native Mesoamerican music, singing in Spanish, English, and the languages of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya, and Nahuatl cultures. Her tremendous voice and the originality of her compositions create a musical concept that is highly innovative and unique. Lila is hard to put in a box. She is not simply a Mexican artist, a jazz, blues or a world music artist – there is no real way to categorize her music except to say it is an exciting fusion of international sounds and musical genres.

Lila has recorded 9 studio albums, garnering a Grammy and four Latin Grammys. Her first Latin Grammy win was for 2004’s “Una Sangre.” Her 2011 CD, “Pecados y Milagros,” won both a Latin Grammy in the Folk category and a Grammy in the Mexican Regional Category. Her collaborative CD, “Raiz”, with Niña Pastori and Soledad, won a Latin Grammy in the Folk Category and was nominated for Album of the Year. It was also nominated for a Grammy in the Best Latin Pop Album category.

Lila Downs’ compelling 2015 release, “Balas y Chocolate” (Bullets & Chocolate) earned Downs her fourth Latin Grammy and was included in the UK Sunday Times 2015 Best Albums of the Year as well as, the US ITunes best world music releases of 2015.
The album was inspired by both “the Day of the Dead” offering and celebration, and also from her personal dance with her partner’s possible death. While the lively sound of the album centers on danceable fusions of “mostly cumbias, klezmer-like norteña, hip hop and pop,” the serious and timely lyrical content is a fierce condemnation of the current violence and corruption engulfing Mexico. “Balas y Chocolate” spotlights Downs’ concerns over the erosion of civil rights and justice, the still escalating threats to the country’s journalists, the excess in modern life, lost love and more. The title track is a dedication to migrant children, while the single “La Patria Madrina” is a duet with Colombian superstar Juanes that pledges to passionately fight for the values of one’s land and society.

Lila Downs has performed at many of the world’s most prestigious festivals and venues, has been invited to sing at the White House, performed on the Latin Grammys 2012 telecast as well as the 75th Academy Awards televised ceremony where she performed the Oscar nominated song; “Burn It Blue” from the movie Frida with Caetano Veloso. Her music has also been included in several other feature films such as; “The Counselor”, “Tortilla Soup,” “Real Women Have Curves,” “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada,” Carlos Saura’s “Fados,” “Mariachi Gringo” and “Hecho en Mexico”.

Other artists with whom she has collaborated in recordings and concerts include Mercedes Sosa, Santana, Carlos Santana, Juanes, Bunbury, Cafe Tacuba, Los Tigres del Norte, 1 Giant Leap, Wynton Marsalis, La Niña Pastori, Angelique Kidjo, Kevin Johansen and Juan Gabriel, among many others.

 

“The Mexican American singer has a stunning voice, a confident multicultural vision grounded in her Mixtec Indian roots,” Los Angeles Times

“Ms. Downs has multiple voices, from an airborne near-falsetto down to a forthright alto and a sultry, emotive contralto,” New York Times

“At the center is Downs’s singular voice — cantina-classical — a three-octave instrument that delights in sustaining notes longer than an Olympic swimmer can hold her breath”,  Washington Post

“Fluency in Spanish isn’t necessary to understand Lila Downs’ shape-shifting voice; it transcends language, carrying pure emotion. Downs moves from operatic stylings to rap and everything in between, with both artistic exploration and pop sensibility”,  The Associated Press

“She’s David Bowie as the Thin White Duke. Beyoncé as Sasha Fierce… Downs channels Lola Beltrán, Mercedes Sosa, Chavela Vargas, and other musical greats in performances that conjure their voices and spirits, but with a sweeping vocal range… she is also a human-rights activist who has long sung of cultural and political issues”, SF Weekly

“Taken as a whole, Downs’ work is a true original”,  NPR.org

 

DISCOGRAPHY:

• 1994 Ofrenda
• 1996 Azuláo: En Vivo con Lila Downs
• 1999 La Sandunga (Narada / EMI)
• 2000 Árbol de la Vida {Yutu tata} (Narada / EMI)
• 2004 Una Sangre {Latin Grammy} (Narada / EMI)
• 2006 La Cantina (Narada / EMI)
• 2008 Shake Away {Grammy Nomination} (Narada / EMI)
• 2009 The Very Best of Lila Downs {El Alma de Lila Downs} (Capitol EMI)
• 2010 Lila Downs y La Misteriosa en París – Live á FIP (Cloud People Music / Radio France)
• 2011 Pecados y Milagros {Grammy & Latin Grammy} (Sony Music)
• 2012 Pecados y Milagros – Special Edition CD+DVD (Sony Music Entertainment Mexico)
• 2014 Raíz – Collaboration with Niña Pastori & Soledad {Sony Music Latin Grammy}
• 2015 Balas y Chocolate {Latin Grammy} (Sony Music)

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