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Singer-songwriter Lila Downs Singer-songwriter Lila Downs. Courtesy

Lila Downs dedicates Bellas Artes concerts to her Mixtec grandmother

Her music explores themes including social injustice, migration, women's issues and spirituality

Lila Downs, a Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter from Oaxaca, is dedicating her two concerts in Mexico City this week to hardworking women such as her Mixtec grandmother.

The Tlaxiaco native will perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) in the capital’s historic center on Tuesday and Wednesday.

In an interview with the newspaper Reforma, the singer and recording artist noted that her maternal grandmother, Matilde Sánchez, was a vendor of pulque, a pre-Hispanic alcoholic beverage made with the sap of the maguey plant.

Downs said that performing for the first time in the “sacred precinct” of the Palacio de Bellas Artes gives her the opportunity to represent her grandmother and other hardworking women. “She taught me what is sacred about life,” she said of Sánchez.

Downs, the daughter of a Mixtec mother and a father from the United States, said that although she has never performed at Bellas Artes, she considers her upcoming concerts a homecoming because she studied opera there when she was a teenager before going on to study singing and social anthropology in the U.S.

“I started at Bellas Artes when I was 16 years old and I return, in this cycle of life, in my 50s, transformed,” she said.

“Moreover, I return with this song of women, which is very important for me,” said the Grammy and Latin Grammy-winning singer.

Social injustice, migration, women’s struggles, identity and spirituality are some of the themes Downs explores in her heartfelt songs. One was inspired by a tree she looked at through a window of her home every morning during the initial pandemic lockdown period.

In making her music, which spans genres including jazz, rock, ranchera and cumbia, Downs said she has taken inspiration and advice from her mother, Anita Sánchez, who was also a singer.

“I even started paying attention to my mother’s words; she told me ‘Lila, sing with feeling or don’t sing at all,’” she said.

Following her two concerts at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Downs will embark on a tour of the United States before heading to Europe.

With reports from Reforma 

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