Words by Chris Moss
Care for some munitions with your M&Ms?
Passion in spite of poverty, magic in the face of misery – these are survival strategies in Latin America. Lila Downs’ eighth album, with its Day of the Dead artwork, songs about mortality and titles such as ‘Dulce Veneno’ (Sweet Poison) is a Mexican exploration of the struggle, with lyrical and musical nods to sister nations in the south. Rousing choruses, martial beats, and agit-prop raps give the album a festive brio; but the playing is always assured, thanks to an array of fabulous musicians (sax, accordion, brass and percussion are superlative) and Downs’ devilishly delicious voice – she travels up and down from a smoky alto to an emotive contralto to a Mercedes Sosa-styled baritone.
‘La Patria Madrina’ is the only single to be released from the album so far. Featuring Colombian singer Juanes (a superstar in the Latin music world, ignored outside it), it showcases Downs much better than it does him; still, as bids for mainstream recognition go, it’s pretty cool. The mariachi-inflected ‘La Farsante’, on which Downs combines with Mexican crooner Juan Gabriel, is even better. Another sizzling, gutsy, joy-giving instalment from Mexico’s finest crossover artist.