Lila Downs has an enormous talent, as well as a three-octave range and commanding stage presence to go with it. The operatically trained Mexican singer-songwriter also boasts a career résumé that includes a half-dozen Latin Grammys, including an Album of the Year Award for her aptly titled Balas y Chocolate.
A heavily syncopated mix of cumbia, ranchera and international pop influences, the album lives up to its title with lyrics about drug cartels, student disappearances and murdered journalists, alongside songs about faith, hope and love. “There are no bullets that penetrate the force of this love,” Downs sings in Spanish on the upbeat title track, while on “La Patria Madrina,” she and Colombian superstar Juanes sing about a “homeland of illusion” that references, in all likelihood, the country where she still lives.
Onstage, Downs has been known to cover songs ranging from world-music icon Manu Chao’s infectious “Clandestino” to Glasgow art-pop band The Blue Nile’s “I Would Never,” which she repurposes as an homage to undocumented immigrants: “I have walked a thousand miles / I have worked as fast as I can / And I have raised a precious child to be a man.”
A conscientious, consummate entertainer, Downs makes music that will stand the test of time, and there’s no better time to hear it than now.