© 2024 WKNO FM
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Lila Downs Mixes Traditional Mexican Genres With A Strong Feminist Pulse


Mexican-American singer Lila Downs says that she fell into a funk after the U.S. presidential election. She says she's pulled herself out with her new album, which is called, in English, "Salon, Tears and Desire." It's a mix of traditional Mexican genres with a feminist beat. NPR's Carrie Kahn met up with the artist in Mexico City and sent us this report.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: I wasn't alone in meeting Downs in Mexico City. She invited a dozen female journalists to an upscale restaurant to lunch and the launch of her new album.

LILA DOWNS: (Laughter) Salud a todas. Salud, bienvenidas. Gracias por estar con nosotros un ratito.

KAHN: Sporting her signature long braids and a traditional kitchen apron, Downs, now 48, raised a shot glass of Mexican mezcal spirits and toasted what she called a group of inspiring peligrosa, dangerous women - a reference to a cut off her new album.

DOWNS: Me estan saliendo cosas que no sabian que habia en mi.

KAHN: In this album, she tells the group in Spanish, things came out that I didn't even realize I had in me. Away from the group, Downs tells me she was surprised at how explicitly woman-centric her record turned out and how full of pain she was feeling about the new reality of politics in the U.S.

DOWNS: I think my wish and my dream was to make people come together and love each other a little bit more, you know? Even though that sounds very hippy-like in these times (laughter), I actually do believe it can happen.


KAHN: That hope and pain is felt throughout the traditional boleros, rancheros, cumbias - some infused with the blues - that make up the album, especially in this heart-wrenching opener "Urge"


DOWNS: (Singing) Urge una persona que me arrulle entre sus brazos, a quien contarle...

DOWNS: It says with my pain, I am wandering around like a rolling stone. And all I need is for someone to listen to my triumphs and my failures. And I just found it so profound.


DOWNS: (Singing) Que me despierten con un beso enamorado, que me...

KAHN: If fans are looking for the music with a message they've come to rely on with Downs, Felix Contreras of NPR Music's Alt.Latino podcast says she delivers, especially in the album's dramatic Mexican rancheras.

FELIX CONTRERAS, BYLINE: The best ranchera composers just, like, really just wrote their songs in blood because it was just so tear-your-heart-out dramatic. And that's what she goes for, you know? She is raised on that tradition.

KAHN: It's not just the political reality in the U.S. that has touch Downs, but also the crime that is ripping through Mexico and the falsehood she sings about in the cut "La Mentira," the lies.


DOWNS: (Singing) Que me quieres, a pesar de lo que dices pues llevamos en el alma cicatrices.

This constant lie that we're living here, of course, in Mexico. But it's also happening everyplace, you know, corruption and impunity.

KAHN: Downs says she's out of her funk and moving forward. Something she wants to inspire others to do through "Salon, Lagrimas Y Deseo"

DOWNS: Hopefully, this provokes catharsis. And, hopefully, it makes us respond and react to what is happening to us in these times.


DOWNS: (Singing) La vida es corta. Ya no me importa. Hay tantas cosas que quiero contigo que importan más.

KAHN: Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.