Lila Downs Concert Review: Auditorium Theater May 6th, 2015
“Balas y Chocolate” Bullets and chocolate…powerful, sweet, and rich just like the woman herself. This concert, like the one I had seen years before, was multi-dimensional, with thematically-linked slides and videos accompanying each song, engaging all of the senses.
As the musicians set up a trumpet, saxophone, trombone, accordion bass, guitar and drum kit onstage, you got the distinct impression the sound would be big enough to match her powerhouse vocals. The brightly colored purple skirt with orange, red, and neon yellow accents were as colorful as the music she performed. No detail was left out: even her mic stand was adorned with large multicolored flowers.
After opening her set with a traditional norteña, Lila Downs addressed the audience and said the next song Humito de Copal” was dedicated to “all the journalists who put themselves in the line of fire” The first line Estoy tan decepcionanda y ya no te creo más ( I am so disappointed and I don´t believe you anymore ) are echoed in English subtitles on slides brightly lit showing people protesting. The words “ you promised the truth” are flashed across the screen and she sings this powerful dedication to those who have lost their lives searching out and reporting the truth.
Midway into the show, the lights dimmed and a somber mood, created by a sweet and haunting electric guitar solo, rose across the theater. Downs spoke about a lost love who does not re-appear. The darkly lit stage was punctuated by her glow in the dark yellow skirt. This song is in English and accents her beloved contralto voice. It was at the end of this number that an unexpected audience member walked over to her and asked her to hold a sign and help him propose to his girlfriend. She obliged, the woman accepted, and the audience went wild!
This excitement led into an upbeat children’s song about cacao. Downs took the opportunity to explain to the audience that this song was dedicated to the people of Chiapas and their struggle to maintain autonomy. Animated images appeared on the screen above her of indigenous people and illustrating the Spanish conquest—all things that one could easily miss while caught up in the catchy music. There was even an accordion “ dual” at the end by one band member from Mexico and another from Texas, representing both sides of the border.
During her number “La Muerte” Lila Downs displayed another aspect of her musicianship by playing the Jarana, a small Mexican stringed instrument. This number ends as a cumbia. It is a fun number with calaveras (skeletons) dancing about on the projection screen. Though the refrain is “La muerte—nadie le escapa”(death no one escapes it) the song it self brings out a light and festival element to this inevitable side of the life cycle.
During one of her last numbers, Downs spoke to the audience about seeing ourselves as a collective unit. How each of us have the ability as community members to affect social justice and environmental change. The song “La Madrina Patria” had a lovely positive refrain “todo amenecio mejor mejor”/ Everything was better, better in the morning. It was a fun number that got the audience dancing and moving.
With a three-song encore and vocals that remained rich and deep throughout, Lila Downs and her group of extremely talented musicians delivered a show full of life and powerful messages. This audience member could not contain her excitement and was dancing in the aisles by the end!