mmersion in a different culture brings about encounters with fresh things on every front. Music is certainly one of those fronts. Not too long after I arrived here, I was stopped in my tracks by a sound being played over the big speakers at the CD stall in the open market. I had never heard anything like it. It certainly was not typical of the popular Mexican music normally played there.
It turned out that Lila Downs has a intriguing background, one that obviously was not an easy one for her. It is probably this that one hears in her voice.
She is about 42 now and still lives down in Oaxaca with her husband, Phil Cohen, the saxophonist, as far as I know. She is the daughter of an American university professor and a Mexteca Indian mother. That partnership definitely did not work out long term. Her parents split up when she was very young. She spent a good deal of time living in the United States with her father and living in Mexico with her Indian mother, two cultures about as different as one can imagine.
Coming to terms with her own identity obviously gave her some problems. While attending university in Los Angeles, she set aside singing entirely. She became a deadhead, following The Grateful Dead around and living off the sale of handmade jewelry. She had a little trouble finding her way. I know that none of you have ever experienced any difficulty finding your way, but perhaps you can imagine it.
Ultimately, she fell in love with the border culture, that hybrid gringo and Mexican thing that exists up there in those troubled border states like Sonora, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and Tamaulipas. Throughout the entire history of Mexico, that area has always been different, a world apart. The King’s Writ issued in Mexico City here on the central plateau has never extended into the deserts of the border area. In that sense the current situation up there is no different than it has ever been.
Border music is entirely different, too. One branch of it is the Tex-Mex sound, for example, something this sound is not. Lila Downs became fascinated with the music there but fashioned a sound entirely her own, a passionate voice with an accompaniment that is an amalgam of many things that are hard to put one’s finger on. Those curious can read more about her at allmusic.com.
The one that I have chosen for the purpose of introducing you is the first one that I ever heard, Mi Corazón Me Recuerda, “My Heart Reminds Me.” With that title you need not know one word of Spanish in order to get the idea, although I have put up the Spanish lyrics below for Vanessa Seijo or others who might visit. The lyrics are apparently from a poem by Jaime Sabines. This song is from her 2001 album, “Border (La Linea)”.
A word about this video, a homemade one done in July 2009 soon after I first heard the woman. There are a couple of youtube videos with better sound. However, the tune is set to some truly goofy, distracting images there, more goofy than the images in mine. Nonetheless, should you wish to hear better quality sound, you should go here.
For my money, this is sexy. In fact, as I hear it, this drips with sex.
The music starts at about 35 seconds, after I babble about the rain.
Mi Corazón Me Recuerda
By Lila Downs
Mi corazón me recuerda que he de llorar
por el tiempo que se ha ido, por el que se va.
Agua del tiempo que corre, muerte abajo,
tumba abajo, no volverá.
Me muero todos los días
sin darme cuenta, y está
mi cuerpo girando
en la palma de la muerte
como un trompo de verdad.
Hilo de mi sangre, ¿quién te enrollará?
Agua soy que tiene cuerpo,
la tierra la beberá.
Fuego soy, aire compacto,
no he de durar.
El viento sobre la tierra
tumba muertos, sobre el mar.
los siembra en hoyos de arena,
les echa cal.
Yo soy el tiempo que pasa,
es mi muerte la que va
en los relojes andando hacia atrás.