Lila Downs—Great voice at Beloit College!

Lila Downs—Great voice at Beloit College!

By Molly Fleming, Staff Writer

Lila Downs’ mother chopped her belly-button off and buried it in the earth of a mountain to ensure that her daughter would always return to the land of the Cloud People. This is apparently a custom of the Cloud People from the Oaxacan mountain region. Downs herself is only half “cloud person” as her father was an American, but her music clearly shows ties to her maternal background. Her latest album, Lila, is a well-woven tapestry of Mexican infused American music and American infused Mexican music. She experiments—rather flatly—with hip-hop, but truly finds her mastery in the rich, delicate songs sung entirely in Spanish.

Downs’ music was featured in the recent movie Frida starring Salma Hayak, which is ironic considering she bares a more striking resemblance to Frida Kahlo than the nationally-acclaimed film star. With her prominent eyebrows and strong features, she is not only a beautiful woman to view, but her voice is unexpectedly big. While listening to Lila, it is a little unnerving to imagine such a deep, rich voice to come out of such a seemingly dainty lady. But it does come out strong and clear. Her song, “Burn it Blue,” is an Academy Award nominee for best song, which is also a little ironic as it is Downs’ least impressive tune.

Downs sings mostly in Spanish, although she was brought up speaking English only as her mother was ashamed for her child’s Indian background. Born in the Oaxacan mountain region of Mexico, she would have less Spanish and more Indian blood, which was considered lowly by some of the time period. But times have changed, as well as views on genealogical heritage, and Downs displays hers with pride through song. These songs are passionate, contemporary, and touching with great instrumentation. The tunes with words in English, however, are a little disappointing—especially when she attempts to rap and ends up sounding like, well … like she’s struggling for the right rhythm. Her flows seem forced and a little condescending, and her self-righteous ideas that are conveyed are somewhat irritating. But, if those mere two songs are skipped over, the album is well-worth listening to.

Although her version of “This Land is My Land,” is altered enough to make it interesting, it still comes across as being campy—especially when the “rap” aspects come into play. Melody and traditional singing is where her talent lies.

One can order copies of Downs’ albums through Borders and Media Play if they don’t already have any in stock.

Lila Downs will perform at Beloit College’s Neese Theater in Eaton Chapel, Beloit, Wis., Thursday, March 27. The performance begins at 8 p.m., and tickets range from $4 to $12. Beloit is not far away, Rockford; it is but a mere 20 minutes if you try hard. That’s how long it takes to get to Kryptonite from the mall sometimes. The show is worthy of this town’s support and locals won’t want to miss what Billboard magazine heralded as “One of the most spellbinding voices to grace the world music scene.”

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