“People feel uncomfortable when it comes to talking about immigration”, says Lila Downs, and she decided to make the subject part of her new album, “Al Chile”. The Mexican singer included in the production a version of the classic Manu Chao “Clandestino”, which is a tribute to immigrants.
Downs has preserved much of the lyrics of the original song of 1998, but has turned it around with cumbia and ranchera rhythms and has included some words of its own as a symbol of protest against the immigration detention and separation of families recently imposed in U.S.
“If we do not fight for children, what will become of us?” Asks Downs in her song.
The original theme of Manu Chao speaks of African immigrants and other countries that seek a better life. Downs decided to adapt it to the present, focus on the American continent and sing it especially from the perspective of immigrant women.
“My mother was a migrant,” the artist explained in New York on Friday May 3rd, the same day of the album’s release. “She married a gringo, she went to live in the United States, and he suffered the situation. She migrated from her indigenous community in Oaxaca to a big American city, so she lived those two stages in her life, which were difficult, and maybe that’s why my perspective is from a woman’s point of view. ”
“Clandestino” is one of the key songs of “Al Chile”, an album so diverse that it counts with the collaboration of several Mexican traditional music bands and the participation of American singer Norah Jones. Downs combines cumbia and ranchera and includes titles such as “La Llorona”, sung in Spanish and Zapotec, the indigenous language of Downs’ mother, and “Los caminos de la vida“, which includes lyrics in Mixtec (another language of the Oaxaca region).
Born in Oaxaca to a Mexican mother and American father, Downs became interested in music at an early age. In 1994 she released his first album, “Ofrenda”, and that was followed by 16 more in an outstanding career that has earned her all type of major prizes such as one Grammy and five Latin Grammy awards. Wearing a long purple braid, Downs spoke to the press dressed in traditional Mexican clothes and necklaces, full of color.
True to her roots, she thought “Al Chile” was the perfect name for a Mexican album. Not only does she make a tribute to this typical product of her country, but she also admits that she likes to speak “al chile“, that is, with honesty.
“It’s our personality. We Mexicans are sweet, but we are also spicy, ” Downs said. “It’s like the verse from ‘La Llorona’: I’m like the green, weeping, spicy, but tasty as chile,” she sang with a smile.
Known for composing songs about topics that matter to her, Downs has sung about the empowerment of women and about women who suffer abusive relationships. She was Amnesty International’s ambassador against femicide in Mexico and currently supports the education of girls as a spokesperson for the Guadalupe Musalem Fund in Oaxaca.
Lila Downs just started a US tour that begins in Stanford, California, and includes stops in Los Angeles, Escondido and San Francisco, before ending May 21 in Seattle. She also has a series of feature presentations scheduled for Spain and one more in August at New York City’s Central Park Summerstage.
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