By Iride Aparicio


LILA DOWNS in Concert     Photo: Luiz Ribeiro

SARATOGA, CA --  LILA DOWNS is a Mexico-American woman who had succeeded in several aspects of her life.  As a singer, she is the only one who has won tree Grammys: One American Grammy and two Latin Grammys.  She does not give herself a lot of credit for them but thinks that many things contribute to winning those awards, among them how she sings and how organized she was in sending the information required.

To LILA, music is the most profound human expression of feelings, may they be of sadness or joy. “We have low and high points in our lives” she says “in which we need music to be able to go on living.”

And like everything in her bicultural life, The music she refers to, is the popular music from Mexico and America , and the Classical  music.

 “When I was not born yet, and my mother was pregnant with me,”  LILA  tells CULTURAL WORLD BILINGUAL in a telephone interview from Mexico, “I listened to the Ranchera music that she was listening to. Ranchera is the music my mother likes the most, so I think that is the reason why Ranchera music became very important to me since then. But growing up I was influenced by the music of BOB DYLAN, and my father gave me my first encounter with classical music when he introduced me to the Opera.”

LILA was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, but lived and studied in both Mexico and the USA. Her two main languages (she also speaks Mixtecan, Mayan, Nauatl, and other Meso-American Indians languages) are: Spanish and English. Her immediate  family gave her the best of two cultures: Her mother the famous Mixtec singer ANITA SANCHEZ who is Mixteca her Mexican traditions.   Allen Downs, her father who is a Professor and filmmaker. The traditions of his Anglo-Scotish heritage. She learned from both, her love for music.

LILA began to study music when she was 15 years old.  “I started to study singing formally in Los Angeles, After a while I returned to Oaxaca and study in Bellas Artes. I finished my studies in Minnesota.”   She earned two degrees: one in Anthropology and the other in Voice from Minnesota University.     

LILA DOWNS         Photo:Fernado Aceves  
LILA DOWNS         Photo:Fernando Aceves

She describes her love  for singing saying: “When I sing, I convert myself into a person who can expel from my soul and heart my need to cry, to laugh and to fly because singing allows me to fly, for one second, before returning to the doldrums of every day  life.”

She explain us the reason she began to compose her songs as follows: “Singing Mexican songs, I felt disappointed with the lyrics of some traditional songs. I felt the lyrics were talking to women from another generation, because their realities were not my realities. I could detect a little  “machismo” in those lyrics and very little positivism for women. So, in spite that I loved the traditional Mexican songs, I tried to give to them the point of view of a woman as a sensitive human being, by composing a song for the the women who work in the “maquiladoras” which are the factories in the border towns. I have written songs for the immigrants, and for my latest CD I am composing songs for “El Dia de Los Muertos,” for the Chocolate and for those children that are arriving to the United States from Central America.”

On August 11, in the House of Blues in Chicago, LILA DOWNS will start her American tour which will take her to several states including Northern  California where she will present a concert in Saratoga (8/11)  another in Sacramento (8/14) and a third in San Francisco (8/16) accompanied by her band “La Misteriosa” which she started with her husband, a psychologist, musician and comedian, and a group of musicians from all over the world. Describing her concert she tell us:

“I will be singing songs from “Pecados y Milagros” my last record and the one that won the Grammy Latino, and some of the songs from my new recording. Also, traditional songs such as “La Llorona” y el Mezcalito” because the Latin American public enjoys listening to these songs because they remind them of their identity”

 “Sadly, when we are at the top, we forget those that are at the bottom because they never had the opportunities that we did. I believe it is important that we always remember where we came from, and be proud of who we are.  I came from an ethnic group whose origin is very humble, the Mixtecos. They are very introverted, very spiritual, always accompanied by the poetry of nature. Nature is always with us, it keep us strong, so I believe that we need to respect nature."

“This are very difficult times for Mexicans living in the United States. It makes me sad.  I believe that we need to educate the North American people to respect us, and also that we need learn to respect who we are.

When I was young I used to dye my hair blond, thinking that my father’s culture.  The Anglo-Saxon culture was better, so I identified myself with the dominant culture.  But one day, I began feeling the need to search for my roots and I began asking myself, Who am I?"

LILA DOWNS in concert   Photo:Tania Barba

 "I began then to search for my mother’s Indian roots and I discovered that the Mixtecos had been living in Mesoamerica for thousands of years. It was then that I went back to the Mexican music.”

"I believe that all the Latino-Americanos need to accept our mestizaje accept that we belong to two cultures and accept who we are. Unless we do, we are always going to be frustrated with ourselves. Unless we learn to accept our heritage, we could never be able to feel proud of who we are.”

In all the triumphs in the life  of LILA DOWNS, perhaps her highest one is that she learned, early in life, to utilize all the advantages of being the product of dos culturas.

For complete information about her concerts go to



LILA DOWNS in concert   Photo:Tania Barba