EXCLUSIVE: Lila Downs on New Album & How the 2016 Election Impacted Her
Lila Downs has blessed us with another album: Salón, Lágrimas y Deseo.
We spoke to the Mexican singer about the inspiration behind her latest album, raising her son, and how the 2016 election impacted her life personally.
Read it all in our exclusive interview below:
What inspired the name of your latest album?
Well, I think it was a little hard this time because I was really angry about the political situation in the U.S. I really had faith that the racists were not going to win, and so I think I was really disappointed and depressed with along with, I imagine, thousands of people who also had voted for Hillary. I gathered myself and thought, ‘I think I just need to make the choice of looking for songs that represent something like strength and maybe not confrontation, but yet some kind of a dialogue with the love relationship I have with both countries.’ I am constantly in love with Mexico and with the beauty of Mexico, as well with some of the ideals and the way of life in the U.S. However, I also am incredibly disappointed and saddened. My heart has been broken. I think what the album is mainly about, is having a broken heart, about who we want to be, and who we represent. Trying to find songs that somehow represent ‘the love’ and ‘the unlove' – in Spanish we say ‘el desamor.’ The person that you fall in love with, it’s so passionate and so intense, but then the ‘unlove’ or the disappointment is just as intense. I think when we finished composing a number of the songs I realized that the album was incredibly feminine. I guess in the sense that it was from my perspective as a woman, and I think that’s really what saved me this time. Each time an album saves me through music and I am able to voice my anger and my frustrations and my dreams.
Your single “Peligrosa” is all about women empowerment. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
I think that it’s the notion that women are somehow dangerous if they’re leaders, if they think, if they have certain desires, and ambitions. It’s also the notion of looking at men in those same positions. Of course, they’re not dangerous; they’re just a normal guy. I think that it’s about those relationships that we had, that we’re not quite sure what we’re dealing with. I think that's happening right now. I mean in government and in day-to-day life. It’s a confrontational time and it’s scary. At the same time, I feel like it’s a moment when finally women are really coming out and being more forward about the injustices towards our gender. This is really important. So it’s exciting and that's what the song is kind of about.
In order to see changes in societal views, it’s important that parents are guiding their kids to grow up to be socially conscious. How are you raising your son, Benito, to not only believe in, but also stand up for gender equality?
It really is a challenge. My son goes to a very alternative school. He goes to a Waldorf school. I would say it’s a very hippie-oriented school. What they do is they go on little excursions up to the country. They don't learn to read until they’re seven-years-old. We have a lot in common with the parents that are taking their kids there. It’s a very small school, so there aren’t too many kids. I have found that my son comes home to me and he’s crying and he says, ‘The girls, my girlfriends, are laughing at me because I like to play with dolls.’ It really breaks my heart. It really makes me think, ‘What’s wrong with us? Why can’t we get this part together?’ I’ve spoken to some of the parents sometimes, but I also think it’s important for him also to learn that there are going to be people out there that are going to have those opinions. He’s got to know how to deal with it and he’s got to know that I’d never judge him for that, or his father, or the men in our family. It’s very elemental and also very surprising that this is still happening. Like I said, we are in an alternative community. He originally did go to more of a state school and he was very unhappy and the kids were very aggressive. I think parents really want their kids to be a certain way. In a way, kids naturally have that side like the girls like the princesses and the boys like the guns and the cars. Benny is a little bit that way as well. I’m not sure of his sexuality yet because he goes towards both extremes, but I think that should be a possibility for us. When I was younger I believe my parents let me play with both if I wanted and look at me now. [Laugh] I do think that it’s really important to talk about this, it’s very important because I think you’re right we’re talking about something, but yet at home we are not practicing those beliefs.
You’ve previously voiced your opinions on Donald Trump, how did the 2016 election impact your life personally?
I assumed that a lot of our community was not going to vote for him, that surprised me first of all. In a way, I’m not surprised he’s doing all those things that he’s doing. I think that one of the things that I have is that I read people immediately based on their intentions and on their spirit. I think that’s a very native Indian thing. I know that a lot of his campaign was based on this idea of getting rid of immigrants. That made me understand that he was a person that does not respect history. He does not respect the painful story between Europeans and Native Americans. Obviously, he knows nothing about that. That was one of the sides that I knew exactly he was going to be a tyrant and he had elements in his language. Each step that he has taken in government since becoming president and before, make us think of people like Pinochet and Hitler. I’m not embarrassed to say that. Some people are. I think they’re afraid and they’re in denial. Now, we’re having to deal with this. A lot of people are surprised. Its sad to say but a lot of people who want to keep believing that he might have a good side are not seeing that happen. It’s really sad and I hope that it makes the people who are against his policies react and understand how important the moment that we’re living and how important it is to stand up. I’ve seen a lot of protests going on today in the papers and in the media. I think it’s important that these things are happening.
What message do you have for Latinos in America who are facing discrimination and racism more than ever?
It’s very logical that these things are happening. If you plant the seed of hate in people there will be plants that will grow and will reflect that hate. They are the children of hate. This is a result of his campaign. I think that one of the things that really bothers me is that we have to start educating people about how the U.S. conceives of itself. One of the things that really bothers me and that I think is an essential correction in our language is the word “America.” America is a continent, it is not a country. I think when we start changing these things, we are going to see changes in our communities and in our future. It’s really up to us and up to the Latino community that lives in the U.S. to organize and to start reacting and really changing these things. I think it’s possible. I think it’s very possible because we are in all areas of life in the U.S. It’s forcing us to organize and to realize that there are a lot of people who are envious of us, like I say in our song on the album “Envidia. Tu me tienes mucha envidia.” That’s what people are afraid of, they’re afraid of encapsulating much more than they are. ‘If a person is poor and needs a job at the 7Eleven or at the Taco Bell, how could it be that they can be superior to us?’ Well I’m sorry to say I do believe we are. We have more of a notion of our history, where we come from, and our legitimacy on this continent. These are all things that we need to come to terms with and it will make us stronger in our communities and in our identities.
On a more positive note, you’re performing around the U.S. this year. Can you tell our readers more about that?
We are going to be in several places. We’re doing Celebrate Brooklyn in New York on June 29th. We are also going to be in New York at possibly Town Hall – that hasn't been confirmed yet. We are also going to Toronto and we will be at Ravinia in Chicago in July, as well as here in Oaxaca. We’ll be going to Argentina in the month of August and Chile. We’ll be in Mexico in Acapulco and Chihuahua in September, and in October we’ll be coming back to San Francisco and Texas. Also, Maryland for the first time, I believe, and in Philly as well.