Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Lila Downs Visits Mérida

I was introduced to the music of Lila Downs, the Oaxaca-born Mexican-American singer and actress, in 2003 when she sang in the high school auditorium in Juneau, Alaska. That very month I closed on the purchase of my new home in Mérida, Yucatán. In my first blog post, I wrote about how my fascination with Lila and her powerful music intertwined with my transition from Alaska to a new culture and way of living in Mexico.

Ten years after singing in my Alaska hometown, as if to affirm my Mexican life this week Lila performed in my adopted home town of Mérida.

One difference when I see her these days is that due to circumstances, now I have a personal connection. Several years ago I met Lila's godmother Victoria at a concert in Lila's hometown of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca. Since that time I have been privileged to make many visits to Oaxaca to attend concerts, the baptism of Lila and husband Paul Cohen's son Benito, and to hang out in the city of Oaxaca, explore pueblos, and to visit Lila's home in Oaxaca and Victoria's home in Juchitán. It has been a fascinating opportunity to make new friends, and to get an insider's view of the region's fascinating culture.

It was a wonderful concert. The energy and flexibility of the singer's performance and the virtuosity of the entire company is of international caliber. I tend to like the old Mexican standards, and there were plenty of those this time, songs like La Martiniana, Naila and La Cucaracha, but also rock-, jazz- and rap- inspired contemporary themes.

Lila talked during the performance and to the press about how this visit to Yucatán may inspire a new project. She wants to come back to Mérida to study Yucatecan traditional trova with the goal of interpreting it in future recordings. She indicated, to the roaring approval of the crowd, that she will be back, and she confirmed that to me as we chatted briefly after the concert. That's exciting news.

I love the music and it was wonderful to see Lila, Paul, Benito, Lila's wonderful assistant Eddaliz and the band in Mérida at long last, but for me there was more to this event.

As I sat with the audience along side of Mérida's Plaza Grande, as always I was mesmerized by the spectacle, passion and intensity of this music. The entire crowd, which numbered in the thousands, swayed and pulsed with the beat. The cheers, clapping and chorus of voices rose and fell with the music. There seemed to be nothing but the moment and we were one soul together in it.

The moment was yet another indication, accompanying the many quieter and less flamboyant ones that I experience daily, of why I love living here.


  1. Anyone who's passionate about the place they live is lucky. You must be operating on the right side of the force. Oaxaca must be quite different from flatland culture. I found the square in Oaxaca merry and delightful at night but was only there a few days. To explore it as a locals friend is a treasure.

  2. I'm happy to know that Lila is likely to return to Merida. Hoping one day I'll be standing in the midst of that crowd, listening to her beautiful music.

  3. I have never seen Lila perform live, a situation that I hope to remedy in the future. I hope that she will come to San Miguel again. She really is a national treasure!

  4. I missed a Lila Downs concert, but hope she comes to Monterrey, Mexico soon. I read through your blog a little and I LOVED your pictures. They are wonderful. Regards.


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