Father, freedom, happiness influence folk singer Lila Downs

2013-04-11T00:00:00Z Father, freedom, happiness influence folk singer Lila DownsErnesto Portillo Jr. Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

It's been quite a year for Mexican folk singer Lila Downs. She earned a Grammy in February, she released a new recording and she honored her father's life.

Downs returns to Tucson for a performance Sunday at the Fox Tucson Theatre at 7 p.m. as part of UApresents.

In March, the Mexican-born Downs performed in Minneapolis, where she grew up, at a retrospective of her late father's work. Allen Downs was a filmmaker and professor of art at the University of Minnesota. Like her father's former students, the singer was strongly influenced by his art and ideas.

Her father was concerned with freedom, learning and investigating the beauty of life, resulting in her personal and professional exploration of music and life, said Downs in a phone interview from Chicago, a stop on her national tour.

"He influenced me in the sense that he constantly wanted me to look for those things that gave me freedom and happiness."

His influence has been evident in Downs' music from the beginning of her musical trajectory, beginning in 1994 with her debut recording, "Ofrenda," about the time she graduated from the University of Minnesota. Her freedom and creative happiness came from exploring Mexican regional music, specifically from the southern state of Oaxaca, where her mother is from and where Downs was born.

In her subsequent recordings, Downs and her musical collaborator and husband, Paul Cohen, have forged Mexican ranchera and indigenous rhythms, African roots, American jazz and blues and Jewish klezmer.

Her most recent recording, "Pecados y Milagros" (Sins and Miracles) earned Downs a Grammy Award for best Mexican regional music. She previously received a Latin Grammy for 2004's "Una Sangre" (One Blood).

The recognition and public acceptance of her folk music pleases Downs. In the face of mass and often crass popular culture, it's a welcome respite.

"People get tired of big productions and overly produced voices. Folk is always a wonderful place to go back to," Downs said.

The gravitation toward folk music, on both sides of the border, reflects an increasing number of people who are focusing on more rooted lives.

"We need to be more connected to the Earth," she said. "We're coming back to that now."

If you go

• What: Lila Downs in concert.

• When: 7 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Fox Tucson Theatre, 17 W. Congress St.

• Tickets: $35 to $50.

Ernesto Portillo Jr. can be contacted at netopjr@azstarnet.com or 573-4187.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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