One Blood/Una Sangre
Among world music pioneers, it's hard to imagine anyone who can equal the vivid eclecticism of cultural anthropologist Lila Downs. The product of a Scottish-American father and a Mixtec-Indian mother, raised in Oaxaca, weaned on traditional mariachi and ranchera rhythms and the songs of Woody Guthrie, educated in Minnesota, the multilingual 36-year-old's kaleidoscopic history includes everything from formal opera training to a stint as a jewelry-hawking Grateful Dead groupie. Best known for her contributions to the soundtrack for Frida, Salma Hayek's admirable biopic of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, Downs performed the Academy Award-nominated "Burn It Blue" before the billion or so global viewers who tuned into the 2003 Oscar ceremony, rightfully gaining an army of new followers.
The latest in her succession of dazzlingly cross-cultural CDs, Una Sangre (One Blood) (Narada), salutes strong women throughout history, delivering intensely passionate portraits of such icons as Joan of Arc, labor leader Mother Jones and iconic Indian interpreter La Malinche, who enabled Cortez to communicate with the Aztecs. For less adventurous listeners, Downs also shapes soaring interpretations of such familiar Mexican fare as "La Bamba" and "La Cucaracha." Describing La Malinche as "the tongue between two cultures," Downs could just as easily be defining her own sensational self.