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Lila Downs bringing indigenous Mexico to İstanbul this weekend
Lila Downs bringing indigenous Mexico to İstanbul this weekend  - Beginning her career as a Latin jazz singer and performing her own compositions as well as her brilliant reinterpretations of traditional Mexican music, Lila Downs has now become one of the most popular stars of the world music scene.

Beginning her career as a Latin jazz singer and performing her own compositions as well as her brilliant reinterpretations of traditional Mexican music, Lila Downs has now become one of the most popular stars of the world music scene.


The Latin Grammy Award-winning singer will be in town this weekend, performing a selection from her songs with her beautiful, powerful voice on Sunday at the Cemal Reşit Rey (CRR) Concert Hall.

While best known for her blend of traditional elements drawn from Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl roots in her music, Downs is also admired for the social consciousness prevalent in her songs. In addition to her excellent voice, her political sensitivity has also been a significant aspect of her successful career. 

Ahead of this weekend’s eagerly awaited performance, Downs speaks about her career, traditional music, her new project and the very interesting indigenous cultures of Mexico in an interview with Today’s Zaman. 

Your latest studio album, “Shake Away,” mainly deals with social issues such as immigrants, workers and the minimum wage. How do you describe your artistic stance? 

I believe that I can use the power of songs, and I would love people to feel what I express in the songs. I want to find something beautiful in the middle of troubles, and I want all people to enjoy their lives while trying to deal with their problems; all I am trying to do is give [them] strength through songs. 

You honor shamans and make references to your roots in your album. What attracts you most about the indigenous cultures of old Mexico? 

Love and hate stories are told in a very powerful and explicit way in traditional songs. History is full of hatred but although the hatred was so obvious, people were able to make fun of their difficulties through the songs. While they were trying to cope with problems, they came up with beautiful solutions with songs. The way they used to be so explicit and direct is pretty attractive to me. 

The title of your song “Ojo de culebra” means “the eye of the snake.” Does this title refer to the Aztec snake symbols in prehistoric Aztec civilization? 

Yes, my song refers to this very sacred symbol of Aztec civilization. In very few cultures, the snake is attributed with beautiful meanings. The snake symbolizes the relationship between life and death in Aztec civilization, and it brings fertility and novelty. Our culture refers to the snake as a healing power whereas many other cultures refer to it as evil. I wish all American people and Mexican people cast their fears aside, and I wish they all could leave all the violence and political problems behind. I refer to a snake which changes all the fear and anger into something positive. 

You performed with legendary Argentinean singer Mercedes Sosa on your album “Shake Away” right before she passed away. Did you become close to her? 

We became so close to Mercedes Sosa without needing to speak due to her political attitude and our similar concerns. We had a kind of unspoken connection. They once prohibited her from singing for a period, and she devoted herself to human rights and she never gave up her political struggle. She was so special. 

In the beginning of your career, you also performed jazz. Who are your idols in jazz? 

It’s a very difficult question; there are so many singers and musicians I really adore. I can easily say that Billie Holiday is my favorite jazz singer. I love listening to big idols like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. But John Coltrane is a great musician who really inspires me a lot. 

You made an international breakthrough with your songs in the movie “Frida” in 2002. How did you get involved in this project? 

The director of the movie, Julie Taymor, and composer Elliot Goldenthal came to see my live performance after listening to several of my albums. After watching my performance, they invited me to record some songs for the soundtrack of the movie. 

Are you into Mexican mythology in your daily life? 

I am so much into mythology because my grandmother and my mom were also so much into the spiritual beliefs of the Mexican people. Beliefs in my family were not necessarily all about Catholic beliefs. In Mexican mythology, the wind is a god. It’s a sign of an intention of nature. We used to be so careful about our behavior when it was windy outside. The relationship between nature and mythology is pretty impressive. 

What kind of music do you listen to in your daily life? 

There are 16 different languages alone in the state of Mexico I was born in. So, I keep on trying to learn new songs and stories about local Mexican cultures. There are so many songs to discover among traditional songs. There’s a very rich diversity in local cultures and music, so I love to listen to local orchestras if I can find some time. 

You shot your first video for your seventh studio album, “La Cantina,” 12 years into your recording career. Was that a kind of change of attitude? 

It’s not about an attitude, but our main concern has always been a good production and a good performance, so we never cared about publicity at first. Our main concern has always been the reaction of the crowds and our connection with the audience. Maybe it’s one of the real advantages of making independent music, because we have never been interested in album sales either. 

After your most recent studio effort, you released a best of compilation and more recently a live recording. What’s next? 

We have been preparing for a Broadway musical together with my husband in New York City. It’s a musical adaptation of a novel called “Like Water for Chocolate” by famous Mexican Laura Esquivel, and we are coming up with original compositions for the musical. We have already written down 10 original songs. 

You are going to perform in İstanbul on May 16. You have been to İstanbul before, what do you remember most about the city? 

İstanbul is a beautiful city, but more interestingly, you are such a musical people. Your people are so into music. What I remember most was in the hotel room I was watching TV, and I remember in each and every show some singer or people were singing songs and performing holding a microphone. I believe we are going to have a good time at the concert. 

You are already a Latin Grammy winner, but do you believe in awards at all, as you are more concerned about social issues? 

I always sing on the stage with a deeper feeling, but I never worried about publicity at the beginning of my career. My concern is making sure that people feel what I am trying to express about very sensitive issues in my songs. I guess awards help to legitimate your work, and it helps people taking you seriously. It’s legitimating your efforts, and interestingly [after the award], even my own people in my own country have started to take me more seriously. 


14 May 2010, Friday 


This content was pulled from the published article of Cenk Erdem Istanbul