Mexican-American diva Lila Downs returns to Costa Rica

November 2, 2011

Latin Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Lila Downs and her band The Mysterious will return to Costa Rica next week for two concerts at San José’s National Theater. The Nov. 9 and 10 concerts are part of the 14th anniversary celebration for the independent radio program “Meridiano.”

Downs was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, to a Scottish-American father and Mexican-Mixtec mother. Her multicultural upbringing shines through her music, which features themes related to migration, women’s rights and preservation of indigenous Mexican cultures. 

The songstress has released seven studio albums, two live albums and one greatest hits album in her 17-year career. Her newest album, “Pecados y Milagros” (“Sins and Miracles”) was released in October.

Like her previous albums, “Pecados y Milagros” is a collection of both modern and traditional arrangements that reflect Downs’ unique heritage. The most important of these influences comes from her birthplace, Oaxaca, a region of Mexico that is as complex as it is colorful and culturally rich. Its people are poor and no strangers to political oppression.

Downs takes listeners into that mystical space that is Oaxacan indigenous spirituality; her songs are driven by emotion and a powerful connection to the land and its inhabitants. Through her music, Downs replicates the creative forces that rule humankind. In all its brutality and beauty, the cycle of life is an interplay of harshness and comfort, weakness and strength, pecados y milagros.

In a recent interview with La Nación writer Ana María Parra, Downs describes the lyrics of “El palomo del comalito” (“Dove of Comalito”), a song dedicated to the women of Oaxaca who make tamales by grinding corn with the sacred grinding stone: “Vi milagros, vi milagros de esta tierra, de mujeres que sus manos alimentan, la que invita, la que invita aunque nada tenga y pelea por las cosas que sí son buenas.” (“I saw miracles, I saw miracles of this land, of women whose hands provide food, she who gives despite having nothing and who fights for things that are good.”)

Other songs on the 14-track album include familiar Mexican styles of mariachi and ranchera, and a song dedicated to mezcal, Oaxaca’s smoky libation made from the maguey plant. Downs’ powerful and agonizing voice on a cover of Marco Antonio Solís’ “Tu cárcel” (“Your Prison”), a smash hit played in every cantina in the Western Hemisphere, renovates the annoyingly catchy pop melody and transforms it into something worth listening to.

Guest artists on “Pecados y Milagros” include Argentine hip-hoppers Illya Kuryaki and the Valderramas on “Pecadora” (“Sinner”), and cumbia king Celso Piña and Afro-Colombian vocalist Totó la Momposina on “Zapata Se Queda” (“Zapata Stays”).

This is the second time Downs has performed in Costa Rica. She first played here last year as the guest of honor at Meridiano’s 13th anniversary celebration. Meridiano airs on Radio U Costa Rica (101.9 FM). Host and producer Luz López uses the twice-daily program as a platform to promote alternative music and artists. 

“I found out about Lila after hearing her album ‘Tree of Life.’ I felt connected from the first time I heard her voice 11 years ago. Her voice is impressive and presents a different message to the people,” López said. 

López had the opportunity to attend a Downs concert in New York City in 2008. After the show, López waited outside the theater for the chance to ask Downs one question: When would she play in Costa Rica?

“It was a dream come true when I saw her in concert, and the beginning of another dream come true when I was able to ask her about bringing her music to Costa Rica,” López said.

López explained that Downs’ first performance in Costa Rica was important not only for Costa Ricans but also for Downs’ career. 

“Commercial music dominates here,” López said. “So it opened her up to a new market and allowed people to get to know Lila and her message.”

López said she expects this year’s show will be successful now that Costa Rica has been introduced to Downs’ talents. 

“Last year’s concert was a beautiful experience,” López said. “It was magic.”

Tickets are on sale at the National Theater box office (2221-5341, www.teatronacional.go.cr). Prices range ₡18,000-₡42,000 ($36-$84). Both concerts begin at 8 p.m. For information, e-mail meridianaluz@gmail.com.

Tico Times Editor David Boddiger contributed to this story.

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