Lila Downs just dropped a new song about Donald Trump called "The Demagogue," and, as the title suggests, she goes in.
In the canción, which the Mexico-born Scottish-Mexican singer debut Saturday at Univision-Fusion’s Rise Up As One concert on the southern border, Downs calls the Republican nominee a "blue-eyed devil man" who is "selling fear and hate."
"The Demagogue" is part of the “30 Days, 30 Songs” series, which features 30 original songs written and recorded by artists like Death Cab For Cutie, Franz Ferdinand and R.E.M., among others, all for a Trump-free U.S.
The anthem, which is available in both Spanish and Spanglish, has a powerful message for Latinxs about protest and love, themes often present in the 48-year-old singer’s music.
Latina chatted with Downs about the canción, her message for U.S. Latinxs and how she felt voting in the presidential election for the first time.
Why did you want to write "The Demagogue?”
I think that my main concern is that it’s about a social movement. I think there are too many people who are blaming the hardest-working people because they need to find a scapegoat to their problems. Maybe they aren’t watching enough football or they are eating too much red meat. I feel each culture has its cycle and poetic beauty, and at this point it is incredibly ugly that a man like this can represent all these people that agree with the manner in which he is dealing with these issues: race, respect toward women, respect toward Mother Earth. Also, it’s important because there are a lot of Latino voters who are questioning the issue and not taking it as serious as they should be. And, in great part, that’s what the lyrics of the song say. The same thing happened in pre-Hitler Germany. A lot of people were lax, and Latin people, we take it easy that way. We have tremendous faith in humanity.
What role do you think music plays in political activism?
I do believe Bob Dylan got the Nobel Prize in literature, so if that doesn’t speak strongly about the power of music, what does?
The song is both in Spanish and Spanglish? Why was that important for you to do?
I think a lot of the Latino artists in Latin America are singing mainly in Spanish, which makes sense. But if someone like Shakira would have done a song like this in English, think about its reach. I find it necessary to do this in my own universe. It’s part of my existence as a performer and poet.
In the song, you note how Trump, and leaders like him, has no respect for women or race. How has his rhetoric and proposed policies angered you personally?
I think it angered me that people in a nation can have a level of comfort, can have such ignorance toward the importance of immigrant communities, which provide their services. It’s elemental. You need to have cheap labor in the U.S. to have a comfort in life, so how did we forget to thank these people? I come from a family of immigrants, my mother is a Native American from what we now know as Mexico and my father is Scottish-American. I think Trump, and those who follow him, have forgotten, have become estranged from reality, cut off from their ancestors, and part of that is because of the materialistic culture in the U.S. that forgets our history. I also think our priority is not education, and it’s not only happening in the U.S. but all over he world.
What was the response to "The Demagogue" when you debuted it at the Rise Up As One concert?
I think we received a very warm response at the end of the song. I spoke to some people who watched and did not know us, and they said it was the solid moment, the moment of reflection. I think Latinos, just like everyone else in the world, are so concerned with having a good time and not taking things too seriously. It’s the same in my life. It helps us survive and be happy. But we need to know when we must reflect on issues important for our future and children. There were people in the media sphere who asked me, “are you sure it’s not going to bring consequences?” That’s a real concern, as people are reprimanded, killed and disappeared for saying things like what I say in the song. They were afraid for me, so it made it more important for me to raise the issue. Funny story: I had some wine after the concert and, maybe it was just bad, but it did go through my mind that it might be poisoned.
Wow! What impact do you hope the song has on U.S. Latinxs?
I certainly hope that it gets people out there voting and toward us making a difference in the country, about our future and reflecting about what could possibly happen if Trump wins. I think there is a lot of hate and racism in the U.S., and we have not liked to openly talk about this. Mexicans and Mexican Americans and Latin Americans, in general, we need to come out of the closet and talk about these issues, ‘cause we’ve been avoiding it.
I understand this is going to be the first time you vote in a U.S. presidential election. How do you feel?
I already voted, and I feel it was great. It was fortunate that we got organized this time, thanks to my assistant who helped me do the paperwork.
Why do you think Latinxs should make it out to the polls this November?
I think that we do make a difference in the U.S., and I think we shouldn’t be afraid to speak our truth and to be dignified in doing so.
Listen to Downs’ powerful song "The Demagogue” above.