Abundance. That was a word that came up frequently during Lila Downs’ set at The Chan Centre on Sunday night. This Mexican-aboriginal-British-American performer is full of it. She sang for just under two hours and no two songs were the same. There were soulful ballads, latin jazz, latin pop, Latin dance, folk songs, rock songs; almost no stone was left unturned.
This was the perfect show for me to attend. Normally, I put in applications for artists and bands I like (and thus the review may lack a tiny bit of objectivity). But I had no idea who Lila Downs was before last weekend. And I regret that. I regret that I wasn’t introduced to her music earlier on. She is a remarkable singer, performer, storyteller and human being. Throughout the night she sung in English, Spanish, Sapotec, and a few other native Mexican languages.
With Downs, each story tells a song – whether it’s aboriginal rights, labour movements, immigration – and she seems to be able to put a happy spin on even the most melancholic tales of sorrow and grief, loss and death. She expanded her saga-weaving skills to include each member of her band – drums, guitar, bass, trombone, saxophone, (and occasionally accordion) and even brought out a mariachi band for one of her encores. Not bad for a woman who spent part of her youth in Minnesota.
It wasn’t just Spanish and Meixcan culture on display at The Chan. As previously mentioned, Downs has some native ancestry. It seemed appropriate then that Larry Grant, elder from the Musquem Nation, gave a blessing and the introduction. While this is standard practice at all Chan Centre shows and cultural events, somehow it more poignant on Sunday night.
A fantastic show from a fantastic storyteller.