Like Mexico’s Chavela Vargas and the late Mercedes Sosa of Argentina, Mexican-American singer and songwriter Lila Downs is an heir apparent in the storied tradition of formidable Latin American female folk singers.
The Oaxaca native, whose mother is Mixtec and whose father is from Minnesota, has used her smoky, operatic chops to give cherished standards a new visage. She's also created vibrant musical alchemy from an assortment of seemingly disparate influences and genres — often tapping unexpected collaborators (like Argentine funk rap duo Illya Kuriyaki & The Valderramas in her latest album) to do so.
Even when her songs are infused with pop or broaching a timely issue (like narco-trafficking in her song “La Reyna del Inframundo," "The Queen Of The Underworld), Downs's music remains steeped in indigenous and pan-American cultural pride and traditions. On “Paloma del Comalito (Dove of the Comalito)," for example, which is a new track from her recently-released album Pecados Y Milagros (Sins And Miracles), Downs weaves sweeping Andean choruses into a quirky Mexican cumbia.
Lila Downs plays at El Museo Del Barrio on Saturday night. Download "Paloma del Comalito" above or watch her live performance of the song “Los Pollos (The Chickens)" below.