Lila's show uniquely entertaining and deeply meaningful

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Tuesday June 21, 2016

From The Guardian
By John Lewis

Lila Downs review – Mexican-American singer wows the crowd with a uniquely entertaining show

The show starts with Lila Downs – resplendent in a flowery yellow dress and a pair of crazily high white heels – opening a bottle of tequila. She pours a drop on the floor (“as is traditional among native American communities in Oaxaca, Mexico, as a show of thanks to Mother Earth”), swigs from it and then passes it around the audience to loud cheers. It’s a triumphant start to a show that never puts a foot wrong.

Downs’s latest album, Balas y Chocolate (Bullets and Chocolate), covers some harrowing aspects of life in contemporary Mexico – drug cartels, the disappearances of students, the murder of investigative journalists – but, in concert, she never forgets her duties as an entertainer.

She impersonates a cooing dove and dances like an iguana, then dons a huge sombrero in tribute to Emiliano Zapata
Over the course of two hours, the Mexican-American singer (and songwriter, actor and activist) is hilarious and heartbreaking, raucous and ridiculous. She impersonates a cooing dove. She dances like an iguana. She dons a huge sombrero to pay tribute to Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata. She covers herself in a shawl to sing songs of death and mourning. A huge screen behind her displays accompanying footage – song lyrics, Day of the Dead-themed animations and atmospheric films of Central America.

Downs trained as an opera singer and has a remarkable voice. Technically she’d be called a contralto, but her chest voice is as low as many male baritones. She can hold notes for a ludicrous length of time, and can throw in vocal effects – growls, rolled Rs, eerie falsettos – that make her androgynous, almost superhuman three-octave range sound conversational.

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