One of the world’s most singular voices, Lila Downs’ poignant storytelling goes beyond borders. Raised in Minnesota and Oaxaca, Mexico, the global superstar’s artistry bridges traditions from across the Americas. Winner of a Grammy and four Latin Grammys, Downs has been influenced by the folk and ranchera music of Mexico and South America, as well as North American folk, jazz, blues, and hip-hop. As a passionate human-rights activist, she often highlights issues in her lyrics that relate to social justice.
“The Mexican American singer has a stunning voice, a confident multicultural vision grounded in her Mixtec Indian roots,” writes a Los Angeles Times reviewer. “Ms. Downs has multiple voices, from an airborne near-falsetto down to a forthright alto and a sultry, emotive contralto,” adds a writer for The New York Times.
An NPR reporter describes Downs’ June 2017 release — Salón, Lágrimas y Deseo — as “a mix of traditional Mexican genres with a feminist beat.”
“On 2015’s Latin Grammy-winning Balas y Chocolat, Lila Downs delivered an album of folk songs and originals that juxtaposed modern Mexico with its rich history,” writes a reviewer for AllMusic.com. “Its songs highlighted the impact of the drug war, environmental devastation, and the widening rift between economic classes in Mexico. Downs believes an artist’s role is not only to create but to be an activist. Salón, Lágrimas y Deseo is in many ways an extension of Balas y Chocolat, though its emphasis is different. Here Downs employs classic and original songs to deliver a feminist manifesto … .”
Downs has performed at many of the world’s most prestigious festivals and venues, including Jazz at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Hollywood Bowl. She sang at the White House and on the telecast of the seventy-fifth Academy Awards.
“Fluency in Spanish isn’t necessary to understand Lila Downs’ shape-shifting voice,” writes a critic for the Associated Press. “It transcends language, carrying pure emotion. Downs moves from operatic stylings to rap and everything in between, with both artistic exploration and pop sensibility.”
Artistic Viewpoints will not be offered before this performance. Instead, plans are being made for an alternative that focuses on the singer's native Mexico and the many cultures within it.
This presentation is part of the Center for the Performing Arts Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative, which seeks to: immerse an array of people in the performing arts; educate the community about cultures and art forms different from the familiar; influence thinking so we become a community that embraces diversity and promotes inclusion; ensure the activities of the collaborative have a sustainable impact on the community. Funds from across Penn State and throughout the community support the initiative. The University’s Equal Opportunity Planning Committee provides lead funding. Sandra Zaremba and Richard Brown provide support.