Lila Downs

Lila Downs

born on 19/9/1968 in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico

Lila Downs

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Lila Downs

Ana Lila Downs Sánchez, best known as Lila Downs (born September 9, 1968) is a Mexican-American singer-songwriter and actress. She performs her own compositions as well as tapping into Mexican traditional and popular music. She also incorporates indigenous Mexican influences and has recorded songs in many indigenous languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, Mayan, Nahuatl and P'urhepecha (Tarascan). Born and raised in Oaxaca, she primarily studied at the Institute of Arts by Oaxaca and briefly attended University of Minnesota, before withdrawing to focus on her musical career. She soon began performing in the traditional music scene of Oaxaca City.

Her first album, Ofrenda, was released in 1994, in 1999, Downs came to prominence with her debut studio album, La Sandunga, which was a critical and commercial success. She achieved international success in 2001 with the album Border which emerged in the music scene of Mexico and Latin America in the early 2000s (decade). Lila's seventh album, Pecados y Milagros (2011), topped albums charts in most major markets and generated chart-topping world music albums. Her eighth album, is planned for release in 2014.

Downs began performing in school, demonstrating her vocal ability with traditional music, Latin and American influences, and with her own original twist on dancing. Downs a native Spanish speaker, is also speaks fluent Mixtec and English.[1][2] Downs through her activism has gone through great lengths to preserve the Mixtec language as well as many other Indigenous Mexican languages.

Influenced by Chavela Vargas, Mercedes Sosa, Lucha Villa, and Amparo Ochoa, Lila Downs is recognized for her flamboyant, diverse and outré contributions to the music industry through her traditional and authentic fashion majority of whom are based around Mexico's Indigenous peoples styles, cultures and heritages, which shows through her performances and music videos. Her achievements include one Grammy Awards and two Latin Grammy Awards.

Besides her musical career, she involves herself with humanitarian causes and politician activism especially dealing with issues of Latin America's Indigenous.


Lila Downs was born on September 9 of 1968 in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico. She is the daughter of Anita Sanchez, a Mixtec cabaret singer and Allen Downs, a British-American professor of art and cinematographer from Minnesota. From an early age Lila showed interest in music. At the age of eight she began singing rancheras and other traditional Mexican songs.[3] She began her professional career singing with mariachis. At fourteen she moved to the United States with her parents. She studied voice in Los Angeles and learned the English language, which her father helped her to perfect. When she was 16, her father died, and afterward she decided to return to her native Tlaxiaco with her mother.

One day while she was working in a store in the Mixtec mountains a man came in to ask her to translate his son's death certificate. She read that he had drowned trying to cross the border into the United States. This deeply affected her and has continued to influence her work. She talked about this in an NPR interview about her 2001 release entitled Border.[4]

Although today Downs is proud of her origins there was a time when she felt shame regarding her Native American roots. "I was embarrassed to have Indian blood. I was embarrassed that my mother spoke her language in public." This led her on a path to find herself, which included dropping out of college, dying her hair blonde and following the band The Grateful Dead. After some time Downs found herself back in Oaxaca working at her mother's auto parts store, where she met her future husband and musical collaborator, tenorsaxophonist Paul Cohen.[5]

Downs studied Anthropology at the University of Minnesota and voice in New York. Later she attended the Institute of Science and Arts of Oaxaca to complete her studies.

At 25, after completing academic and music studies, Lila decided to return to Tlaxiaco. Paul Cohen always encouraged her musical ventures, and she joined a group percussion called Yodoyuxi's Cadets. Because Paul Cohen had business in the United States she began to live in both Minnesota and Oaxaca.[6]

During her stay in Minnesota, Downs formed a group called La Trova Serrana which achieved great popularity among the Latin community within the United States, singing songs about the Zapotec and values and culture. Upon her return to Mexico she started singing in bars, restaurants and clubs in the City of Oaxaca, Philadelphia and California in United States, always with the support of US saxophonist Paul Cohen. She received many positive critical reviews, which led to her decision to undertake an extensive tour of Mexico.[7]


1994-1996: First albums

In 1994 Lila Downs independently made her first album, entitled Ofrenda. This was both a collection of traditional songs from Oaxaca and Mexicans, and songs written by the singer with lyrics sung in Spanish Mixtec and Zapotec (native languages of Oaxaca). The material was produced both independently and with the support of the Oaxacan Cultures Institute.[8] Because this album was not a commercial success in LP or cassette, she never released a version on CD.

In 1996 Downs recorded a live session at a renowned cafe-bar of the City of Oaxaca. On this record Lila was accompanied by a set of well-known musicians who supported its interpretation of traditional themes, as well as country music and jazz.[9] With this work Lila and her music became known in different parts of the Republic of Mexico, and this was their first album to be released on CD. The album had a big impact, despite limited promotion and the fact that only a small number of copies were made. This CD is now out of print, and although not available as part of the official discography of Lila Downs, can be found in a digital format.

1997-1999: La Sandunga

In 1997 Lila Downs made a second recording, called "Traces", on which she performed material that was to be included in later albums such as La Sandunga, Tree of Life and Border. It is an extensive compilation of items in her traditional repertoire but, like its predecessor, had no commercial distribution, so this disc is also currently out of print.

It was not until 1999, when Downs signed with the label Narada Productions, has she achieved commercial success and made herself known internationally with the album La Sandunga. Recorded a year earlier, this material came to the forefront of Mexican music and her album was one of the first to merge the sounds of traditional music and modern rhythms as jazz, blues and bolero. The album sung in Spanish and mixtec, and was produced by Lila Downs and Paul Cohen with the support of Xquenda Cultural Association.[10] Because of this success, Lila participated in the sound track of the Mexican film Green Stones and achieved great popularity in countries such as Mexico United States, Spain, France, England, and Germany, selling over 500,000 units worldwide.

1999-2000: Tree of Life/Yutu Tata

Lila's next album, Tree of Life, was released in 2000. With this album the fame of Downs continue to spread to other markets in England, Switzerland, Canada and especially the United States. This work found Downs turning to her indigenous past, and the album features pre-Hispanic sounds and instruments. Several of the songs on the album are sung in native Mexican languages such as Mixtec, Zapotec, and Nahuatl. In October 2000, she began a two-month tour called the Tree of Life/Árbol de la vida, which included concerts in Latin America, Europe and the USA. The tour began in Mexico and ended in Spain.

2001-2003: Border/La Linea

Border, released by EMI Music in 2001, was the first album by Downs to feature songs sung in English. The album was released simultaneously in the United States and Mexico. With this album Downs merged sounds from different genres such as traditional folk music, hip hop, rock and chilena. It included fifteen songs, eleven in Spanish, three in English and one in Mayan. The album received generally good reviews and placed seventh in "Top charts" of world music.[11] It also stirred up controversy due to its frank discussion of immigration, Native American marginalization and the Acteal massacre.[12] and this drew criticism, especially from politicians and the church.[13]

The album's first single was released in Mexico, "Mi corazón me recuerda", a poem by Chiapas poet Jaime Sabines set to music, achieved moderate success on the Mexican music charts. In Spain the song "La Llorona" was released, and in France the song "Corazoncito Tirano" was released as a single. In the United States the song "Medley: Pastures of Plenty/This Land Is Your Land/Land" was released.[14] The latter incorporates two Woody Guthrie songs, "Pastures of Plenty" and "This Land is Your Land" as well as original lyrics by Downs, "Land".

2004-2006: Una Sangre/One Blood

One Blood, one of Lila Downs' most successful albums, was released in April 2004, simultaneously in the United States, Spain, and Mexico. The lyrics on this album are about migration, discrimination and the case of Mexican human rights defender Digna Ochoa.[15] In addition to traditional songs such as "La Bamba," "Viborita," and "La Cucaracha," the album includes genres such as son jarocho, jazz, rock and folk. This album contains thirteen tracks, three in English, one in Triqui, one in Purepecha and eight in Spanish. Lyrics were authored by Lila Downs, Paul Cohen, Celso Duarte, and Jose Martí. Lila Downs received in 2005 the Grammy Latino in the category of "Best Album of World Music" for this album[16] and reached the top of the charts in United States, Mexico, Spain, United Kingdom, Germany and France.[17]

2006-2008: La Cantina, entre copa y copa

Lila Downs took approximately one and a half years to prepare this project, which was released in April 2006. This CD draws on Mexican ranchero songs and merges sounds such as pop, rock, northern, cumbia and hip-hop. This CD contains fifteen tracks, of which twelve are traditional Mexican repertoire authored by Lila Downs, and includes a version in English of "La cumbia del mole", the song that to date is the most well-known work by the artist.[18] "La cumbia del mole" refers to the preparation of Mexican dish and tradition in Oaxaca. This single managed to position itself among the top of the charts in Mexico, United States, Canada and United Kingdom.[19]

In 2007, Downs published a CD with more success in Spanish to date, containing songs from her previous albums La Sandunga, Tree of Life, Border/The Line, One Blood and La Cantina It was entitled simply The Very Best of Lila Downs; was accompanied with a DVD containing thirteen tracks recorded live at a concert in Madrid, Spain.[20]

2008-2009: Shake Away/Ojo de Culebra

Two years after the release of La Cantina, in September 2008 Lila launched Ojo de Culebra in Europe, North America, Australia and Latin America. The album reached sixth place in sales in Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Spain and several Latin American countries. The first single is titled "Ojo de Culebra" was contributed to by the singer Spanish singer La Mari by group of flamenco Chambao. The song is a merger of rock cumbia and flamenco with some influences of reggae.[21] This song was at the top of the charts of world music in several countries[22] The second single was "Perro Negro" a merger of rock with ska, (which did not have as much of an international impact as its predecessor,) featured Rubén Albarrán singer of the Mexican rock band Café Tacuba.[23] "Little man" (released in the U.S. alone) and "Justice" were next two singles, the latter with the participation of the Spanish singer Enrique Bunbury. Raul Midon, Gilberto Gutierrez and Mercedes Sosa also contributed to this album.

The single "Black magic woman" achieved moderate success in Europe, United States and Canada, and the single "Silent Thunder" was later well received by the British market. In October 2009 Lila Downs was honored by a plaque at the outskirts of her hometown and birthplace, Tlaxiaco, Mexico, and also was awarded the keys the city for her work preserving the language of Mixtec.[24]

2010-present: Lila Downs y la Misteriosa, Pecados y Milagros

"Lila Downs y la Misteriosa en Paris - Live à FIP" is the second live album by Downs, released on April 13, 2010 in Spain and France, the album was recorded in 2009 in Radio Francia estudio 105 in Paris, France. The album was released in May 2010 in the United States and in July in most other countries. It received positive feedback from critics. Lila Downs y la Misteriosa en Paris was released in Mexico with an edited version of the live concert on DVD and was number one in sales of Gender World Music for the music chain Mixup for three consecutive weeks.[25] Although receiving little promotion the album has received moderate success on the Mexican charts. In a survey of the best albums of 2010 conducted by the Mexican television network Channel 22, this album was ranked number one.[26]

Pecados y Milagros (Sins and Miracles) is the seventh studio album by Mexican singer-songwriter Lila Downs, released on October 18, 2011.[27] The album cover was released on September 14, 2011.[28]

The album debuted at number fifty two on the Billboard 200 becoming her fourth-highest peak on the chart. It also debuted at number one on the Billboard Top Latin Albums Chart and stayed there for over 3 consecutive weeks. This album has sold over 60.000 copies in the US and over 290.000 copies worldwide.[29][30] The album was recorded in the Mexico City, and New York. Downs describes the album musically as having "a strong rock side" along with "traditional" and "Latino" songs. Celso Duarte is one of several collaborators to appear on the album, featuring on the first single "Palomo del comalito".

Other collaborations are said to include songs with rappers Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas, Celso Piña and Totó la Momposina. Downs also announced that she is preparing an international tour, the Sins and Miracles Tour, which is expected to start in Mexico.[31]

Audience members at a February 18, 2012 concert at New York City El Museo del Barrio[32] were informed that the concert was being recorded by HBO.[33]

Musical tours

2005-2006: One Blood Tour

Due to the success of One Blood and Border, between 2001 and 2004 was the One Blood Tour with Lila performed 30 international presentations.[34] This tour was presented on three continents in countries having an impact in Europe and Asia as Philippines, Japan, China, Egypt and Afghanistan[35] where Downs caused a sensation because it was the first time I ran these countries taking his music, which was well received by the public. In May 2007, Downs published a DVD collection as a document of that tour in a concert in Oaxaca and Mexico City; this DVD contained thirteen live tracks and a documentary as well as special features like interviews, short films by Allen Downs (Lilas father) and videos.

2008-2009: Shake Away Tour

In September 2008 started Ojo de Culebra World Tour, that took her to visit different countries on four continents, this being the most successful Mexican, who with his One Blood Tour visited 30 locations.[36] In Latin America, Mexico was the country with the highest number of submissions (21 in total), the tour officially ended on October 30, 2009 giving a free concert in the Zocalo of Mexico City,[37] followed by Colombia and Costa Rica, with three each.

Although not part of the tour, Lila Downs appeared in the Live Earth in Germany, where she played three songs, and in late 2008 had a share in the Harmony Festival that is held in the California in United States.[38]

2010: Black Magic Woman Tour

In March 2010, Lila Downs announced a world tour Black Magic Woman Tour which began in Buenos Aires, Argentina with three sold out shows.[39] This tour was introduced in several countries in America Asia and Europe in several of which broke attendance records. The tour officially ended on November 17, 2010 in Square Dance by Oaxaca City where she had an audience of approximately seven thousand people, that within the framework of book fair in Oaxaca.[40]


Downs has had small parts in such films as Frida, Fados and Hasta el último trago corazón; the latter is a documentary on Mexican music involving various exponents of the genre. Currently, Downs is working on the composition and arrangements for the musical Como agua para chocolate, based on the book by Laura Esquivel, which will premiere at the Public Theater of New York and Broadway in late 2011 or early 2012. She will participate in the filming of the U.S. film Mariachi Gringo directed by Tom Gustafson, where she will work alongside Mexican actresses Adriana Barraza, Martha Higareda and Canadian actor Shawn Ashmore, the film is expected to be released in early 2012.


In 2001, Downs was invited to participate in the soundtrack of the Mexican film Piedras Verdes where she performed "Cancion mixteca", in 2002 she participated in the soundtrack for the film Frida singing the song "Burn It Blue" which was nominated in the 75th Academy Awards in the category of Best Original Song.[41] In 2005 she participated in the soundtrack for the film The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada with the song "Dónde estás papá". Downs has also participated in other soundtracks for films such as Real Women Have Curves and Tortilla Soup. In the film by Carlos Saura, Fados (2007), she sings an unforgettable version of "Foi na Travessa da Palha" in Portuguese.[42]

Personal life

Since the beginning of her career she has been involved with Paul Cohen who is as a partner and her artistic director. There has been much speculation in the media about the couple's personal life and that the couple could not have children. She talked about some of these aspects of her life in NPR Interviews: Lila Downs Woos Fans with 'Shake Away'[43] and Lila Downs' Cross-Border Musical Influences.[44]

In June 2010, Downs announced on their web site that, after several years of trying to be parents, they had adopted a child, Benito Dxuladi.[45] They currently reside in Coyoacán in Mexico City and Oaxaca although most of the time they spend traveling.

Social activism

Downs has been a social activist throughout her entire career because she works to maintain a cultural identity in the eye of social distress. For example, she sings with passion, and admiration for her home in Oaxaca, Mexico. Her music draws out many socially significant issues particularly with issues pertaining to the Indigenous, such as the mistreatment and misunderstanding of indigenous peoples of Oaxaca, by celebrating her Mixtec heritage through song.[46] Her albums are socially significant, especially her album, One Blood, or Una Sangre, which includes songs such as La Digificada, which is a song about Digna Ochoa's assassination. She was a social activist, and Lila featured her story on her album One Blood.[47]

When asked if she is a politician, Lila expresses that she does not want to be a politician because she is not interested in power, instead she wants to support and change society through music.[48] On Friday, October 9, 2009 Downs, along with actress Salma Hayek represented to Mexico in a broadcast worldwide campaign for the foundation One Drop, to preserve water, where they performed the founder of Cirque du Soleil, Shakira U2 Vice President Al Gore and other world-class personalities.


  • In 2003 she was invited by the Twelve Girls Band concert in Shanghai, China where she sang in French, Italian and English: Habanera from the opera Carmen, "Signore ascolta" from the opera Turandot and Summertime from Porgy and Bess. Also participated on the album "Spain in my heart: Songs of the Spanish Civil War" in the song "El quinto regimiento".
  • In 2004 collaborated with the afghan singer Kulsoom Syed Ghulam on the album Lullabies from the Axis of Evil in the song "Lalolalo (Don't you Worry My Child)".
  • In 2005 collaborated with the galician band Luar Na Lubre on the album Saudade in the song "Domingo Ferreiro" performed in galician.
  • In 2006 collaborated on the album Simpático (The Brian Lynch/Eddie Palmieri Project album) of Brian Lynch and Eddie Palmieri in the song "Que sería la vida" with Brian Lynch.
  • In 2007 collaborated with the Argentinean band Los Calzones Rotos on the album Tanguito in the song "Loco". Also collaborated in the album "Homenaje a Pedro Infante: 50 aniversario" in the song "Amorcito corazón".
  • In 2008 on the album No Tiene Fin of Los Cojolites in the song "La Herlinda" and has an interest in the topic "El Pescador" of the disk Sin Fecha de Caducidad by the Mexican singer Celso Piña. Also participated on the album "Songs of the siren: Irresistible voices" in the song "La cumbia del mole".
  • In 2009 participated in the basque singer's album Kepa Junkera performs "Haurtxo Polita" in euskera. Also for the album Cantora, Vol. 2 of the singer Mercedes Sosa, with the theme of "Razon de Vivir" That same year also works with the theme "El Llorar" for Mexican musician Ernesto Anaya for his album Huapangueando. Also participated in the album What About Me? of the UK duo 1 Giant Leap in the songs "Come to the edges" with Huun Huur Tu and "Solita sin soledad" with Carlos Santana. Also participated in the album "Sweetheart: our favorite artists sing their favorite love songs" in the song "My One and Only Love"
  • In 2010 in the musical production of the Mexican singer-songwriter Benny Ibarra called The March of the Living has involvement with him singing a duet song "Calaveras", second single of this production. Also participated in the album "Pasión" of Roberto Alagna in the song "Historia de un amor".
  • In 2012 collaborated on the album Bi of Kevin Johansen in the song "Baja a la tierra".
  • In 2012 participated in the album "Ciudadana del mundo vol. 1" of Eugenia León in the songs "De que te cuidas" and "Latinoamerica" with Eugenia León, Moyenei, Betsy Pecanins, Tania Libertad and Cecilia Toussaint,

Awards and recognition

Throughout her career Downs has received several awards; they include the Grammy, the Latin Grammy, Lunas del Auditorio, among others. She has recently unveiled her mark on the Walk of Fame located in the outskirts of Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City for her career. Some of her most successful songs include: "Tengo miedo de quererte", "Estrella oscura", "La línea", "La llorona", "La cumbia del mole" y "Ojo de culebra".



  • Ofrenda (1994)
  • Azulao: En vivo con Lila Downs (1996)
  • La Sandunga (Narada 1999)
  • Tree of Life (Yutu tata) (Narada 2000)
  • Border (La Línea) (Narada 2001)
  • One Blood(Una sangre) (Narada 2004)
  • La Cantina (Narada 2006)
  • The Very Best Of/El Alma de Lila Downs [CD] (EMI 2008)
  • Shake Away (Ojo de Culebra) (Manhattan Records 2008)
  • Lila Downs y La Misteriosa en Paris Live a FIP [CD (Harmonia Mundi-Global Village Europe/USA; various labels worldwide), (CD + DVD EMI Mexico) (2010)]
  • Pecados y Milagros (2011)


  • Lotería Cantada (2006)
  • The Very Best Of/El Alma de Lila Downs [CD+DVD] (EMI 2008)


  1. Bernard, Lori, Lila Downs, AllMusic, 2004-03-18. URL accessed on 2012-03-04.
  2. Collette, Mark, Lila Downs, NPR, 2008-04-18. URL accessed on 2012-03-04.
  3. Terra: Lila Downs
  4. NPR Interview Lila Downs: 'Border'
  5. the digital folklife lila downs
  6. The Three Worlds of Lila Downs
  7. Helene Combes Lila Downs, singing of indigenous Mexico.
  8. Lila Downs-Biography. Biography by Lila Downs in Big Stars.
  9. The Ocarina presents: Lila Downs Azulão.
  10. Xquenda Productions "La Sandunga" by Lila Downs.
  11. 1G1-82012485.html
  12. Lila Downs speaks in "The Line" about the killing of Acteal
  13. Castellanos, 2001; 74: "The interpretation of migration and marginalization by Lila Downs of Oaxaca's "La Linea" cost her several instances of censorship."
  14. Lila Downs-Border at
  15. In "Dignify" Downs talks about the lawyer Digna Ochoa.
  16. Latin Grammy winner- Lila Downs
  17. BBC News. Lila Downs -One Blood music.
  18. Jacintario: La Cantina Lila Downs
  19. BBC Lila Downs Awards for world music.
  20. Newspaper "La Jornada" Reunited, the best concerts and themes in the Lila Downs soul
  21. Ojo de Culebra- Lila Downs and Lamari (Chambao) at YouTube
  22. BBC Music: Lila Downs.
  23. Lila Downs and Café Tacuba, "Perro negro"
  24. Lila Downs receives Tlaxiaco
  25. Lila Downs y La Misteriosa en Paris. Mixup Music Store.
  26. The universal Lila Downs sweeps poll Channel 22
  27. > News > Single and album announcement!. Lila Retrieved on 2012-01-15.
  28. #new album cover Pecados y Milagros/ The Sun Comes Out !!. Lila Retrieved on 2012-01-15.
  29. Lila downs recibe certificaciones por sus altas ventas.. Twitter. Retrieved on 2012-01-15.
  30. Poceso Journal: illustrate Toledo and Flores Lila Downs' new album titled Pecados y Milagros
  32. Concert | El Museo del Barrio New York
  33. Neighborhood Concert: Lila Downs - Saturday, February 18, 2012 | Carnegie Hall
  34. Stubhub tikets One Blood Tour
  35. at YouTube
  36. SION: Lila Downs Presntaciones.
  37. Lila Downs in the Zocalo. DFinitivo.
  38. Lila Downs "Ojo de Culebra at Harmony Festival" in 2008
  39. Lila Downs arrasó en Argentina
  40. Cerrará Lila Downs en México su gira ´´Black magic woman´´ 2009
  41. Lila Downs, Oscar-nominated for his score in Frida.
  42. Lila Downs "Foi na Travessa da Palha" at YouTube
  43. Lila Downs Woos Fans with 'Shake Away'
  44. Lila Downs' Cross-Border Musical Influences
  45. La Nacion: Ese torbellino llamado Lila, Lila Downs
  46. Mexican-American Singer Lila Downs : NPR
  47. [// LILA DOWNS - DIGNIFICADA (versión original) FULL - YouTube]
  48. Lila Downs offers music to Mexicans as refuge from violence, Fox News, October 7, 2011.

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Lila Downs

  • Official website
  • Lila Downs at All Music Guide
  • Lila Downs Music Videos on
  • Lila Downs: beyond the border by Mary Armstrong, Sing Out! vol 45#4 Winter 2002
  • "Wise Latina", an interview with Guernica Magazine's Joel Whitney
  • Lila Downs biography and discography at World Music Central

This page was last modified 17.02.2014 16:52:19

This article uses material from the article Lila Downs from the free encyclopedia Wikipedia and it is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.