Lila Downs, folkloric singer-songwriter from Oaxaca, Mexico, is coming to Los Angeles Wiltern Theatre, the songstress with a mighty vocal range and a multitude of musical talents will be performing at the Wiltern theatre this Saturday, February 25th.
The Latin Grammy award-winner will be showcasing her newest album, "Pecados y Milagros. "
Lila incorporates indigenous Mexican influences and has recorded songs in indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya, Nahuatl and P'urhépecha.
LA.COM was able to land a phone interview with the songstress.
LA.COM:: With such a diverse musical background, why did you decide to focus on Ranchera, style music?
Lila Downs: I think that I have been very affected by what has been happening in Mexico. There has been a lot of violence, and I started composing a number of songs that were inspired by retablo, the votive art forms.
It's about the notion of having a miracle in your life and giving thanks to the sometimes non-visible saints and elements of faith we have in Mexico. I thought it was very fascinating to somehow find the subjects in the songs and then kind of place them in the same way towards showing and giving thanks for the blessings that we have in our life but then also questioning the interpretation of each of these pieces, which are miracles and sins.
Ranchera is really a genre -- it's a form that is kind of about the profane.
There are Rancheras that are about the celebration of life as well as fertility and perhaps the more Indian elements in our culture.
But I would have to say that the Ranchera is mostly accompanied by tequila or mescal. And I think that's when we will tell our sins, and that's why I chose the Rancheras at this point -- And of course because its one of the only forms were you can really spill your guts. And I think that's what we are going through right now. We are in desperate times, and you need something with which you can really express your soul.
LA.COM:: How does coming from a multicultural background affect your music?
Lila Downs: I guess it makes an impression in the way we are fortunate enough to come and go in crossing borders; we live some of the time in New York, we work with musicians who are New York based. Some of them are Latin American, Chile, Argentina, Colombia and of course from all over the US.
And in Mexico we work with a number of musicians from different places. And that makes our music have different styles and influences. We are always fooling around with a song, and it will turn into something else other than planned.
It's a little bit of what happened to "Cucurrucucú Paloma", which we have been performing for quite a while on the stage, but then in the studio it turned into something else. So we are very much influenced by different musicians and art forms from different countries.
LA.COM:: What does a female Rancheras and mariachi singer need to do to gain respect from her fellow musicians?
Lila Downs: You have to be like one of the guys. The woman who have been in this scene have been like, they are a little version of ... they are “macha”, but in a very feminine way. And they are tough, and they are willing to grab a pistol, like Chavela (Vargas), and defend what they believe in, or their songs on stage.
LA.COM:: Is L.A. a good city for Rancheras and mariachis?
Lila Downs: I would not be the one to ask, but in New York City, where we are living part of the time; and I know there are a few mariachis, it is really something that is kind of developing. And in LA it is much more developed, and you can probably play with all kinds of mariachis if you just go out and look.
LA.COM:: Did your mother's musical background (she was a Mixtec cabaret singer) influence your singing style?
Lila Downs: Yes, very much so, my mother was listening to rancheras from when I was very young, and she also loved opera. And she loved Janis Joplin. My mother is very eccentric in her styles, and she loves choral music.
She always taught me that I could sing anything that I wanted, but what was really special about us in our family was that we had to respect Rancheras. And that is where I think I am very different than other people from my generation. I remember that other kids were dancing to pop music and whatever was going on at the time -- Madonna. And in my family it was like, "No, you listen to the Rancheras," and they didn't even have to force me because I loved it anyway.
LA.COM:: Who else would you like to work with in the future?
Lila Downs: I really would love to do something in jazz. Someone like Tony Bennett, who I had the pleasure of meeting when he was there in Mexico, I would love to do something with somebody like that -- also with somebody like Lucinda Williams -- she is an amazing singer-songwriter, so maybe in the future.
LA.COM:: Tell us about your experience working with Julie Taymor in “Frida.”
Lila Downs: That was a wonderful experience, partly because Julie is also an anthropologist and I think her vision on art and her artistic vision is very beautiful, too as far as the visuals. It was, of course, an honor to be a part of a story that is about someone you admire and respect so much and is an icon in our time and who represents the native Indian population in such a way that people don't even know. Artistically I think that she achieved what she set out to do, and I have great admiration for that.
LA.COM:: What's your favorite performance situation?Lila Downs:
I love those really typical venues where all the Latinos come -- those are fun. But I also really love the performance arts theatres where people really dress up and they take it really seriously, kind of like going to church in a way. I love that it's like a ritual, and I believe in ritual, and I think we need more of it. If we create our own rituals, that's probably better than somebody telling you what the ritual is supposed to be -- and really that's really what this album is about.
LA.COM:: What is the best advice you were ever given?Lila Downs:
The best advice that was ever given to me, there is a gentleman in my village in Oaxaca, and I wanted to study agronomy, because I saw my area was being very affected by erosion, and I thought maybe I could study something that would help my people in being able to plant in the earth, the corn, which is the main staple in Mexico.
And I remember mentioning this to him, and he was an educated man, and he said to me, “Lila, if I could sing the way that you sing, I think that's what I would devote my life to.” I must have been 10 or 11 at the time, and I didn't pay much attention, but I remember his words and later on when I did graduate from college in anthropology still kept remembering those words.
LA.COM:: What other projects are you working on?
Lila Downs: Well we are working on a play, based on the novel by Laura Esqivel called "Like Water for Chocolate". It's very challenging for us to compose a number of songs, a little bit about the Revolution,which is about the time that this takes place. It's about the story of a woman who discovers herself in the midst of a magical reality of food and love.
LA.COM:: Will you be singing or performing?
Lila Downs: We don't know that yet, hopefully it will be a good surprise.