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Posts Tagged ‘Lila Downs’

It has been six days since the voices of women, and those who love and respect them, rose as one throughout the world.  Email, Facebook postings, Instagram photos, YouTube videos, memes, and tweets have been circulating the globe, resistance is rising, and unity is being forged.

Here in Oaxaca, we have been overwhelmed by the messages of support for our Women’s March Oaxaca, tee shirt sales (175-200), inquiries of “what next?” and we have been blown away by the final police and media count, that puts the total between 2000 and 3000.  Amazing!!!  We have added press reports about our march to the website, along with photos and video of it.

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And, it has been seven days since the toxic, twittering human smokestack of polluted right-wing demagoguery was sworn in as the 45th president of the USA.  This single week has been marked by a flurry of executive actions — and lots of bombast and argument with the press and, among other things, the launching of a war against truth, facts, science and transparency, women’s rights, the environment, healthcare, Muslims, not to mention disrespecting Mexico and opening up the possibility of a trade war with the USA’s third-largest goods trading partner.

Mexicans are incensed and hoping their president Peña Nieto’s newly-found backbone continues to hold.  And, a grassroots effort among Mexicanos has been launched calling for boycotts of U.S. companies in fury at Donald Trump.   I think now is a good time for El Demagogo (The Demagogue) by Lila Downs (lyrics in English below).

The Demagogue

by Lila Downs

At the edge of the world
Where the factories are
There’s a burning of hatred
That’s crossing the lines

There’s a blue eyed devil man
Thinks he’s king of the world
He’s a bully, a salesman
Selling fear and hate

Who do you think you are?
He plays us with his hate
Turns man against man
But it’s really not a game

And I pray to the ancestors’ love
Do not be fooled by this man’s foolish talk
The serpent woke again
In different times and places
There’s a burning cross
Leading the mob
People in chains
He’s a Quak circus act creeping from the past
He’s the symbol of the monster we no longer want to be
(what we used to be…)
The earth trembles with these names
Mussolini, Adolph Hitler, Pinochet

No respect for woman, no respect for race
No respect for anything that lives, the human race
But he cannot buy our soul

(CORO:)

NO A ESE MURO
Voy cortando el odio
Voy sembrando amor

NO A ESE MURO
De la explotación
Pero es mi casa

NO A ESE MURO
La luz de la mañana
El lugar de mis ancestros
Las flores del desierto

NO A ESE MURO
Gonna show that my love
Is much stronger than hate
I’m gonna call to the four winds
I’m gonna change my fate
I’m gonna rise up singing
I’m gonna stand for this place
It’s a long time, Mi Gente

There’s no turning back
There’s no turning back
There’s no turning back

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It’s been a musical twenty-four hours.  Last night, under the stars in the courtyard of the Casa de la Ciudad, friends and I attended a lovely recital by four classical guitarists.  And, late this afternoon, I walked down to Casa Colonial for a performance by Paul Cohen and his jazz combo.  It was a fundraiser for the Libros Para Pueblos library in San Martín Tilcajete sponsored by the Casa’s owner, Jane Robison, in the name of her late husband, Thorny.

There was blue sky, sun, and standing room only as good vibes and jazz filled the garden venue.  A couple of tunes into the first set, Paul brought up his wife, multiple Grammy award winner and Oaxaca’s favorite daughter, Lila Downs to sing a few songs, including the closing song, “Keeper of the Flame” (first recorded by Nina Simone).  Lila, speaking to an audience overwhelmingly from the USA, noted it was a timely titled selection, given the current political climate.  And everyone knew exactly who and what she was referring to.

Paul Cohen and Lila Downs

Keeper Of the Flame
(Nina Simone version)

I’m the keeper of the flame
My torch of love lights his name
Ask no pity, beg my shame
I’m the keeper of the flame

Played with fire and I was burn
Gave a heart but I was spurn
All these time I have yearned
Just to have my love return

Years have passed by
The spark still remains
True love can’t die
It smoulders in flame
When the fire is burning off
And the angels call my name
Dying love will leave no doubt
I’m the keeper of the flame

Years have passed by
The spark still remains
True love can’t die
It smoulders in flame
When the fire is burning out
And the angels call my love
Dying love will leave no doubt
I’m the keeper of the flame

It’s a song not just about lost love.  As Lila alluded, we are all keepers of the flame.

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Yesterday, the city of Oaxaca celebrated its 483rd birthday as a Spanish chartered city.  Early in the morning bells were rung, Las Mañanitas was sung, tamales and atole were served, an air force flyover buzzed the city several times, multiple musical events were held, a convite paraded through the streets, fireworks exploded from the Plaza de la Danza, and more, and it continues.  I was going to write about it, but…

Today a more urgent anniversary requires our attention:  Mexico Marks 7 Months Since 43 Ayotzinapa Students Disappeared.  Family, fellow classmates, friends, and supporters around the world keep their names alive and cry for justice.  And artists continue to reach into our minds and hearts through their music, artwork, and film making.

In the documentary, Ayotzinapa’s 43 Disappeared: Family & Friends Remember, we hear the voices of their classmates and relatives. They don’t trust the official story and are determined to find out what happened.

Near the end of the song, “La Patria Madrina,” from her new album, Balas y Chocolate (Bullets and Chocolat), Lila Downs chants the Ayotzinapa 43 mantra that can be seen and heard all over Mexico, ¡Vivos los llevaron, vivos los queremos!  (They were taken alive, and we want them back alive!)

And, on walls throughout Mexico, our attention is called to the missing 43 students from the Escuela Normal Rural Raúl Isidro Burgos, teachers’ college in Ayotzinapa, Guerrero.

Oaxaca de Juárez

Oaxaca de Juárez

Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexico City

Mexico City

Oaxaca de Juárez

Oaxaca de Juárez

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One of the qualities that amazes me about most Oaxaqueños is their patience with waiting in interminable lines.  On the one hand, I think those north of the border could take some much-needed lessons in civil and well-mannered behavior.  However, on the other hand, I think Oaxaqueños deserve much better than having to stand in endless lines, be it the bank, a government agency, or to get tickets to a concert by their favorite daughter, Lila Downs.

Lila Downs with bottle of mezcal

Last year, unable to figure out the hows and wheres of getting a ticket to her free concert during the ten days of the Guelaguetza festivities, I was on the verge of giving up getting tickets to see Lila Downs, when friends coming in from out-of-town(!), offered a couple to me.  Of course, I accepted!

Lila Downs fluttering skirt

This year, after several false leads, on Tuesday morning L and I climbed back up to the Guelaguetza Auditorium to try to score some tickets to this year’s free concert.  The box office was scheduled to open at 9 AM, we got up there at 8:30 AM and found ourselves at the end of a line that stretch halfway to the planetarium AND that continued to grow as the hours ticked by.  Abuelos, niños, moms, dads, and teens lined the pathway, talking on cell phones, eating, talking, and laughing — without a raised voice or harsh word spoken.

Lila Downs with guitar

At almost 10 AM, when the line hadn’t moved an inch, I walked down the hill to the box office to see what was happening.  Nothing, as it turned out!

Projected image of Lila Downs

However, good-natured patience finally succumbed to whistles and shouts by those who were in the line of sight of the ticket booth — after all, according to the newspaper they had begun lining up at 4:30 AM!!!

Lila Downs arm raised

I wound my way back up the hill to report my findings to L.  Alas, after another 45 minutes of no movement, impatient gringas that we are, we gave up.  However, to borrow from the musical Sound of Music, “somewhere in [our] youth or childhood, [we] must have done something good,” because 48 hours later, my neighbor presented us with tickets!  And so last night, we climbed back up Cerro Fortín to see Lila Downs.  We were very happy campers.

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She put on another spectacular show — mixing new tunes with old, incorporating several of the Guelaguetza delegations into the production, and generally bringing cheers and sing-a-long voices from the hometown crowd.  By the end, everyone was on their feet.

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I’m back in Oaxaca — and I’m not the only one!  The city’s streets and sidewalks are more congested than usual as tourists, both national and international, have begun pouring in.  Why? you ask.  They have come for the annual Guelaguetza folkloric performances the next two Mondays on Cerro Fortin in Oaxaca city.  And, a few might even venture out to join locals at the more intimate Guelaguetzas in many of the villages that surround the city.

There will be food and drink ferias and festivals…

There will be calendas (parades), expo-ventas (artisan sales), and exhibitions…

There will be concerts, including this one by Lila Downs…

lila downs concierto guelaguetza 2014

And, SO much more!  The above posters illustrate just a fraction of the activities surrounding the Lunes del Cerro (Mondays on the hill).  For a more comprehensive, though not by any means complete, list of events, check out the calendar below.

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Sheesh, it seems like they add more things to do and see every year.  However, I’m looking forward to showing and sharing as much of it as possible with friends.

Click on each poster for a larger (more readable) image.

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Yippee!!!  A new, and extremely colorful, species of grasshopper has been discovered in the pine-oak forest of the Sierra Madre del Sur Mountain Range in Oaxaca.  Liladownsia fraile has been named for Oaxaca’s favorite daughter and one of my favorite performers, Lila Downs, someone I’ve written about often.

(Photo Credit: UCF)

(Photo Credit: UCF)

From Science Codex,

A newly discovered grasshopper by University of Central Florida scientists now bears the name of Grammy-award winning singer and activist Ana Lila Downs Sanchez.

The scientists named the new species discovered on the side of a mountain road near Oaxaca, Mexico, after the Mexican-American singer as a nod to her efforts to preserve indigenous culture and penchant for wearing colorful, local costumes as part of her performances.

“It was primarily Paolo’s idea to name the grasshopper after the singer” said Derek Woller, one of the authors of the paper referring to colleague Paolo Fontana. “He’s a big fan of Lila Downs (her stage name). The grasshopper is so beautiful, so vibrant and colorful. When he told us all about her, her work, her colorful clothes, and that she was born in the region where we found the specimens, we thought, yeah, that’s great, let’s do it.”  Read full article HERE.

According to the Zootaxa article, Studies in Mexican Grasshoppers: Liladownsia fraile, a new genus and species of Dactylotini (Acrididae: Melanoplinae) and an updated molecular phylogeny of Melanoplinae (a mouthful, I know, but the photos are worth scrolling through the article), Liladownsia fraile had been sighted in San José del Pacifico, Suchixtepec, and Pochutla.

By the way, if you are in Oaxaca, Lila Downs is performing tonight at the Teatro Macedonio Alcalá — a benefit for Fondo Guadalupe Musalem, a nonprofit dedicated to improving the lives of the young indigenous women of Oaxaca through education.

poster for benefit

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Even though the significance of May 1, as International Workers’ Day, had its origin in the USA, it is not celebrated there (for a variety of reasons I won’t go into here).  However, like most countries in the world, Día del Trabajo is a national holiday in Mexico.  To honor labor everywhere, here is Oaxaca’s favorite daughter singing her song, “Mother Jones.”

“Pray for the dead, but fight like Hell for the living.”  — Mary Harris Jones (aka, Mother Jones, the miners’ angel)

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Sometime around 8,000 years ago, corn was first domesticated in the valley where I have the privilege of living.  Botanists have determined that the valley of Oaxaca was the “cradle” of maize evolution.  Maíz became the lifeblood of the Mesoamerican diet and culture and it continues today.

On September 29, Oaxaca celebrated el Día Nacional del Maíz Nativo (National Native Corn Day).  On the zócalo, across from the Government Palace, there were displays showcasing the multiple hues of native corn…

There were tlayudas for sale…

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However, there were also warnings about the dangers of genetically modified corn and the products containing them…

Genetically modified corn is a major issue in Oaxaca.  There is a concern that native plants could become infected with GMOs, which would then contaminate and compromise the genetic diversity of native varieties.  Speakers, at the event, discussed the importance of the community seed banks that have been established to safeguard native varieties and be used in the wake of economic and ecological crisis.  Two weeks after the aforementioned event, there was good news, a Mexico judge has placed an indefinite ban on genetically engineered corn.

And so to celebrate, I am re-posting the Lila Downs video of her song “Palomo del Comalito,” paying homage to maíz, and its “granitos de cristal” (grains of crystal).

And to bring this post full circle, the video was filmed in Teotitlán del Valle, located here in the valley where corn was first cultivated.

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As a current article says, mezcal seems to have wormed (oh, that’s bad!) its way into the hearts, minds, and media of el norte.  And, all I can say is, it’s about time!  I’m not really much of a drinker; mostly just wine with dinner, the occasional beer on a hot day, and a mixed drink a couple of times a year.  However, I have to say, mezcal has been a pleasant surprise.  The smoky complexity is quite a treat, especially if one ventures beyond the mass-produced brands and into the artisanal varieties.

Here in Oaxaca, mezcal is offered to welcome visitors, served at celebrations of all kinds, plays a role in most traditional ceremonies, and audiences always enthusiastically join in when Lila Downs sings, Mezcalito.  Oaxaqueño families have been harvesting agaves and hand crafting mezcal for generations.  The following photos are from an afternoon spent at one such palenque in San Baltazar Chichicapa(m).

Agave piñas (hearts) are stripped of leaves & roots and placed in a large outdoor pit oven.

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They are covered with agave leaves, fiber, mats and dirt and cooked over red-hot rocks for three to four days.

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The roasted agave is crushed with a gigantic stone wheel pulled by a horse.

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The roasted and mashed agave is then placed in large wooded vats to ferment.

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The liquid is extracted and twice distilled.  Next it is either bottled, if it is to be sold as blanco (aka, joven), or placed in barrels to age.  Reposado is aged for less than a year and añejo is aged from one to twelve years.  Needless to say, I returned home with my 4 L plastic gas can (no, it had never been used for gas!) filled with reposado made by our host and master mezcalero, Faustino.

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As the old Oaxaqueño saying goes, “For everything bad, drink mezcal and for everything good, you also should!”

And, please note:  This is a drink to be savored not chugged!

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Some of my closest friends have been (and continue to be) musicians.  And, one of the things I find so appealing about Oaxaca is that music is everywhere and all the time.  Marimbas are set up on sidewalks, accordions are almost ubiquitous, and free concerts occur weekly in the zócalo.  Music is honored and valued as an integral part of the culture — a birthright.

Each of the 8 regions of the state has its own distinctive “sones” and “jarabes” and they are tremendous source of pride.  Within a bar or two of Pinotepa,  Canción Mixteca, or any one of Oaxaca’s regional anthems, the clapping begins, tears may well up, and audiences of all ages begin singing the lyrics.  Thus, a major feature of the modern “Mondays on the Hill” that is Guelaguetza, is the performance of the music and dance of each of the regions.

And, so I give you, some of the musicians who played almost non-stop for 3 hours, while their delegations danced their way through the streets of Oaxaca city during the last two Saturday evening Guelaguetza desfiles (parades).

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Here’s to the musicians, long may they play!

 

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Felicitaciones to Oaxaca’s favorite daughter, Lila Downs!  Her CD, Pecados y Milagros, won Best Folkloric album at the Latin Grammys on Thursday night.  When the album first came out, her promotional tour brought her to the Guelaguetza Auditorium, just up the hill, and we got to experience the spectacular show she put on in front of the hometown crowd.

And, at the Latin Grammys, she pulled out all the “spectacle” stops when she, Celso Piña, and Totó la Momposina performed, “Zapata Se Queda” from the album.  (Yes, THAT Zapata!)

The thank you by Lila Downs, posted on her website:

¡GRACIAS por creer en el folklor! Gracias por darnos ánimos cuando andamos tristes, por hacer con su cariño y palabras de buena fe que sigamos creyendo en Zapata, en México, en la tradición, en nuestros pueblos… ¡En la magia y la fe interminable de Latinoamérica!

(Thank you for believing in the folklore!  Thank you for giving us courage when we’re sad, to make with love and words of good faith that continue to believe in Zapata, in Mexico, in tradition, in our towns …In magic and the endless faith of Latin America!)

I strongly encourage you to check out the CD, Pecados y Milagros.  It really conveys the life, the love, the history, and the reverence that is the essence of Oaxaca.

Also, there’s a terrific review of her Latin Grammy performance at Examiner.com.

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LA.com just posted a phone interview with Oaxaca’s own, Lila Downs,  where she discusses influences on her musical development, experiences working on the movie Frida, and future projects.  The following is the first of eleven questions asked by Paty Elias, in advance of Lila’s Los Angeles performance on Feb. 25, 2012 promoting her album, “Pecados y Milagros.”

From the interview…

LA.COM::  With such a diverse musical background, why did you decide to focus on Ranchera, style music?

Lila Downs:   I think that I have been very affected by what has been happening in Mexico. There has been a lot of violence, and I started composing a number of songs that were inspired by   retablo, the   votive art forms.

It’s about the notion of having a miracle in your life and giving thanks to the sometimes non-visible saints and elements of faith we have in Mexico. I thought it was very fascinating to somehow find the subjects in the songs and then kind of place them in the same way towards showing and giving thanks for the blessings that we have in our life but then also questioning the interpretation of each of these pieces, which are miracles and sins.

Ranchera is really a genre — it’s a form that is kind of about the profane.

There are Rancheras

Lila Downs (LilaDowns.com)

that are about the celebration of life as well as fertility and perhaps the more Indian elements in our culture.

But I would have to say that the Ranchera is mostly accompanied by tequila or mescal. And I think that’s when we will tell our sins, and that’s why I chose the Rancheras at this point — And of course because its one of the only forms were you can really spill your guts. And I think that’s what we are going through right now. We are in desperate times, and you need something with which you can really express your soul.

For the full interview and a couple of video clips, click HERE.

And for my description and photos from the Nov. 6, 2011 Lila Downs concert at Oaxaca’s Guelaguetza Auditorium, click HERE.

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Mexico’s favourite singer-songwriter dishes on development, gender, indigenous issues, peace and music.  An interview with Lila Downs (in English) from the IFAD social reporting blog:

By the way, Chris, over at Oaxaca-The Year After has posted more from the recent concert at the Guelaguetza Auditorium, covered in my Sublime sounds and spectacle post.

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What can I say about last night’s Lila Downs concert at the Guelaguetza Auditorium?  It was one of those clear, mild and star-filled Oaxaca evenings.  The glowing auditorium beckoned and encouraged us as we made the steep walk up the street and then stairs to the hillside site, that overlooks the city.

Guelaguetza auditorium glowing with red lights at night

In true, “hey, it’s Mexico” style, we were unsure of the time…  The posters, billboards, and concert’s Facebook page said, 8 PM.  However, our tickets (purchased from TicketMaster… ugh!) said 7 PM.  Needless to say, we were in line by 6:45.  Our, off to the side, front row seats left much to be desired, but once the Afro-Caribbean rhythms of Columbiana, Totó la Momposina and her way hot band began, it didn’t matter.

Totó la Momposina

Although, she initially confused Xalapa with Oaxaca (with the expected laughter and a few catcalls), Totó la Momposina won the crowd over and all were well warmed up for Oaxaca’s favorite daughter.  Lila opened with an offering of mezcal and track number one, “Mezcalito,” from her new CD, Pecados y Milagros (Sins and Miracles).

Lila Downs in white

Totó la Momposina joined her on stage, as on the CD, to sing “Zapata Se Queda,” a tribute to the spirit of Mexican revolutionary hero, Emiliano Zapata.  Other songs followed, a rebozo (shawl) was added, and the lighting changed…

Lila wearing a magenta rebozo with orange/red lighting

Lila then donned a beautiful serape from one of the master weavers of Teotitlán del Valle to sing, “Fallaste corazón.”

Lila Downs wearing a serape.

She dedicated, “Palomo’s Comalito,” to all the women who make tortillas in Mexico.  A knowing smile crossed our faces.  On Wednesday, we had been invited to the home of Emilia and Zacarias Ruiz in Teotitlán del Valle, where we honored the souls of their departed, by savoring Emilia’s delicate tamales and silky smooth and complex mole AND where we were informed by son, Antonio, that Emilia is featured in the music video for “El Palomo del Comalito.” (She’s the woman making tortillas.)

This was my first time seeing Lila Downs live.  I’d listened to last year’s free concert, at the Plaza de la Danza, from my terrace, but it doesn’t compare with seeing her in person…

Lila Downs kneeling, wearing traditional Tehuantepec headdress

I think this was the costume change for her beautiful and haunting rendition of “La Llorona.”  I can’t resist also showing the back of this traditional Isthmus of Tehuantepec headdress, known as a “bidaani quichi.”

Back of the headdress

A sublime and spectacular evening to close a sublime and magical week…  ¡Muchisimas gracias, Oaxaca!

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A musician friend recently told of hearing a young Oaxaqueña singer with a breathtakingly beautiful voice. And, the current front page of the Oaxaca Times announces, Alejandra Robles: the new oaxacan voice. I don’t know if this is who he was referring to, but in the words of the article, “her powerful voice reflects her training in Opera but her style is traditional Mexican with a rhythmic flare.”

Alejandra Robles - photo from Oaxaca Times


Alejandra Robles
is following in the immensely talented and extremely popular steps of Oaxaqueña vocalists, Lila Downs

Lila Downs - photo from Wikipedia

and Susana Harp, who have carved out successful careers celebrating their Oaxacan roots.

Susana Harp - photo from Wikipedia

I haven’t knowingly heard Alejandra Robles sing; I say “knowingly” because music is everywhere and often free… you just never know when and where you will round a corner to find it. This past November, from the comfort of my terrace, I had a ringside seat for a free Lila Downs concert a block away at the Plaza de la Danza. And, the previous May, I wandered down to the zócalo to hear Susana Harp performing (for free) with the Oaxaca State Band under the shade of the laurel trees.

And then there was this unknown singer…

Unknown singer at the Plaza de la Danza

In September, her beautiful clear and powerful voice drew me off the rooftop and over to the Plaza de la Danza where she and her talented band were performing to an audience of less than 100 people… part of events celebrating the Bicentennial. Regretfully, I was too shy to try out my limited Spanish and ask, “¿Quién es?” I searched the local newspapers and cultural calendars, but never was able to figure out who she was. Anyone know?

Update:  She is Natalia Cruz, a proud Zapoteca from Ixtaltepec in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.  Muchisimas gracias to one of my readers!

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