Those who want to connect with ancestors and reflect on life and death get a chance to do so during the Day of the Dead, and singer-songwriter Lila Downs will be helping Santa Barbarans celebrate the holiday this year.
Ms. Downs, who has won several Grammy awards, will perform Saturday at the Santa Barbara Bowl with the Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company and the Mariachi Femenil Flores Mexicanas. In an exclusive interview in Spanish with the News-Press, Ms. Downs talks about the upcoming concert in Santa Barbara.
Family and community seem to be very important for Ms. Downs. When asked what the Day of the Dead celebration means for her, she gave an answer that centered on connecting with loved ones, even those who are no longer alive.
“It’s one of the most important celebrations.” said Ms. Downs. “In my family, it was even more important than Christmas because it’s when you can share with the grandparents, the ancestors … the affection, food and memories. It’s a moment when you reflect about life and the great gift that it is.”
One of the things that make life a great gift for Ms. Downs is music. As a composer, Ms. Downs writes songs in several genres (such as Mexican rancheras and corridos, boleros, jazz, hip-hop, cumbia and North American folk music), but she sometimes blends genres for a unique flavor.
Her songs, for example, often have elements from several cultures, and it is not uncommon for her to sing in more than one language. As the daughter of a Mixtec mother and a Scottish-American father, the multilingual Ms. Downs sings in Spanish, English and several Native American languages, including Zapotec and Mixtec. She seems to enjoy working with others who blends genres and categories in a similar way.
When talking about the LA-based Grandeza Mexicana Folk Ballet Company, Ms. Downs said, “They have done a very important job. Part of it is the rescue of the traditions, artistic choreography, and the other part is the reinvention.”
According to Ms. Downs, the El-Paso-based Mariachi Femenil Flores Mexicanas also strives to be reinventive.
“It’s very beautiful because it’s a mariachi of just women,” said Ms. Downs. “It’s an energy that’s a bit different.”
When asked how Santa Barbara was chosen, Ms. Downs replied, “You go where the love is … I think we have been blessed thanks to the people that continue to get to know our music over time.”
Ms. Downs’ music often talks about Oaxaca, the Mexican state where she was born. The music will be a way in which the concert will bring a flavor of Oaxaca to Santa Barbara, she said.
“I sing and have composed songs about Oaxaca, about mezcal (a type of alcohol), about mole (a traditional sauce commonly used in Mexican cuisine), and now about the chilli,” said Ms. Downs, referring to her recent album called “Al Chile.”
“It’s like a party about the village, about the city too,” said Ms. Downs. “We invite the public of Santa Barbara to join us and get to know a little bit about the philosophy of life and death.”
Those interested in celebrating Day of the Dead with Ms. Downs at the Santa Barbara Bowl can go to https://sbbowl.com/concerts/detail/2019_10_26_lila_downs. Tickets range from about $25 to $100.