Watching Lila Downs perform live was more than I expected.
As a new Lila Downs’ fan I had no idea how popular she was until I read her biography. Her career spans more than a decade of musical excellence and she is the recipient of numerous awards, including Latin Grammys.
Was it her powerful opera voice that resonates and hypnotizes everyone in a theater or the awesome performances she’s able to deliver?
Lila not only delivers an awesome, jaw-dropping performance, but she is also known for eloquently and accurately expressing her views about the indigenous culture in Mexico. Before each song Lila shared with the audience how regional Mexican music, as in the case of Veracruz, is a fusion of many cultures, including African, Spanish and indigenous. She gave us a brief explanation about the ancient origins of mezcal as well as the history of some of the different folkloric dances of Mexico.
The first time I heard about Lila was at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. As I browsed the wares available at the store I stumbled upon a CD called Pecados y Milagros. The artist, Lila Downs, was dressed in traditional Mexican attire. I was perplexed to find that this museum store – a store that is almost exclusively devoted to merchandise and artifacts from U.S. native tribes – carried a CD from an indigenous Latin America artist. At that point my curiosity for Lila Downs was born.
The more research I did on her work as a Mexican artist the more my admiration towards her grew.
Lila is not afraid to represent her true Mexican culture; including her indigenous ancestry.
Very few Mexican artists have been able to do that. In fact, I cannot recall while growing up in Mexico and listening to regional Mexican music, having heard of any artists being proud about their indigenous roots. Unfortunately many Mexican artists, for example Salma Hayek, boast more about their European ancestry, or in Salma’s case her Lebanese ancestry, than their indigenous background.
In Mexico, just like in many other Latin American countries, being of indigenous descent or having indigenous features is often looked down upon. Many Hispanics throughout Latin America grow up more proud about their, if any, European ancestry; whether it is French, Italian, or Spanish.
I come from a very cultural and colonial state in Mexico, San Luis Potosi, where the French and the Spanish played a strong influence in our culture. It’s very common in this region to find families and individuals always trying to hide the fact that they too have indigenous blood in them. Yet you’ll always hear well-to-do families relentlessly bragging about their Spanish or French ancestry.
Lila Downs knows where she came from and knows her culture very well. It is because of this appreciation of her culture and proud display of her heritage that she’s able to deliver a powerful a performance.
If every Latino living in the United States, including those living in their native countries, took the time to learn more about themselves, where they came from and learn the history of their ancestors, and not just the history we were taught in school by books, but actually taking the time to ask their parents where their ancestors came from, we would have a greater appreciation of our culture and realize that being indigenous is nothing to be ashamed of.
I wish I grew up listening to someone like Lila Downs during my childhood; a beautiful and talented Mexican woman who is not afraid to represent her indigenous roots. She serves as a role model to all those Latin American girls and women who have learned, unfortunately, to undervalue their heritage and over-value foreign cultures.
Below are pictures from the event on Sunday, May 5th, 2013 where Lila Downs performed at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia. Enjoy them!
If you want to watch more on Lila Downs, check out her YouTube video on an interview by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
Also, check out the full interview by Kesta Happeing DC;
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