In New York, the summer is filled with music; and many concerts of the season, which feature outstanding artists, happen to be free. Musicians perform all types of music, from reggae to hip hop, with, this year, the Roots and Talib Kweli. Jazz is also part of the program with the likes of vocalist DeeDee Bridgewater. Every concert is usually a celebration: a celebration of the summer, of the history of a musical event, like for instance with the Saturday, August 17 Black Woodstock concert at Marcus Garvey Park; or it is the celebration of a specific musical genre, such as traditional Mexican music. Artists come from everywhere: the Caribbean, Europe, Africa…and Mexico. This year, Mexican American vocalist Lila Downs graced the Central Park SummerStage with the Flor de Capuali mariachi dance company as well as the mariachi band Angeles de New York. She also invited traditional costumed dancers which go by the name of Los Chinelos de Morelos.
Invoking the Mexican spirits, indigenous cultures and reclaiming Mexican traditions is what Lila Downs does whenever she performs. And it was particularly timely, especially for a U.S. show. It worked as a sort of antidote to Trump's racism and wall. Mexican singer and songwriter QuiQue Escamilla explains that Downs used her position, on Sunday, August 11, to express support and empathy towards the Latino community affected by the latest detentions and attacks in the country. "Aside from being a great entertainer, she artfully reflects the social and political struggles of our times," he says. "With her voice, talent, and charm, Lila can open your heart." And indeed, Downs sang Manu Chao's famous song "Clandestino," which tells the story of people moving from poorer countries to richer ones. During the song, the audience response chant was "No humano es illegal" ("no human is illegal). "We all became Mejicanos," producer Gill Pessoa explains.
During the entire show, the focused and captivated audience sang, danced and cried to the sound of Downs' baritone-like voice, and the lyrics of songs such as "La Llorona," "Chile Verde," "Paloma Negra" and "Carinito." "The Mexican-American singer thrilled the Puebla York, LatinX and Nuevo York crowd with an extraordinarily entertaining show," Pessoa adds. "It [was] a celebration of Latino America music, its culture, strength, and faith… It was hard not to get swept up in the Mexican pride and sing along with Mejicanos, Colombianos, Panameños, Peruanos, and Brazileños in the crowd."
The singer was wearing what looked like a traditional green and white Mexican dress as well as green necklaces and a green scarf around her waist, like a gitana; and she at times does sing and look like one. The microphone was covered with flowers. Striking Downs is feminine and incredibly charismatic. When she performs, she is both playful and serious. She embodies traditional Mexican folk music, and her dressing style is ultimately highly elaborate and colorful.
For Downs, form and content are one: through dance, melodies, and rhythms, she reclaims a very important cultural and musical legacy. Perhaps the diversity of what Lila Downs has to offer while she is on stage, visually and sonically, is only a metaphor for the cultural richness of Mexico. Her show, a highly exciting performance, was like a fiesta. Downs also used a lot of highly colorful visuals on the screen behind the stage, but it never felt overwhelming. The visuals, rather, worked as a nice accompaniment to the songs. Downs knows how to invoke the Mexican spirit in a breathtaking combination of joy, seriousness, sadness, and melancholy. Her powerful voice is one of the multilayered and colorful voices of Mexico. It represents the complexities and richness of Mexico.