Concert Review: Lila Downs & Mariza

By Jennifer Horigan

It's rare to find a perfect pairing of concert performers. I was lucky to see one such performance, the pairing of Lila Downs from Mexico and Mariza from Portugal. Lila Downs performed first. She has become recognized in this country with a small part in the film Frida. Originally from the southern part of Mexico, she sings many traditional and traditionally-inspired songs from Oaxaca and the surrounding areas. She took the stage of this performance hunched over, a drum swung over her shoulder, playing and dancing in time with the other musicians. She sang primarily in Spanish or the traditional Indian of the region, performing only one song in English, a tribute to Woodie Guthrie and the migrant workers who are prevalent in the southern United States. Her voice was like an instrument, running up and down the scales with ease. You could sense the pride, history, and ancestry in every note, every breath. She sang songs of celebration, songs of death, and even songs about native animals. She is definitely a product of her past and the many cultures and people she has met along the way. An amazing performer.

Lila Downs was a delicious appetizer for the delectable main course, Mariza. Mariza was born in Mozambique and raised in the most traditional Fado neighborhood in Lisbon. She was born to a legacy of emotional folk music. She peppered her performance with stories of her childhood, of the music she loves, the Portuguese poetry that is her inspiration, and the marriage of African and Portuguese that is deep within her heart. During the performance she stood in the center of traditional musicians: various guitars, a cello, violin and viola player, and simple drum. Every note she sang was acted upon, whether through dance or arm movements. And her voice, that voice, was the finest crystal. Every note sang with perfection. You could feel Fado's history every time she opened her mouth. The final song was sang in a traditional Fado style. The music has flourished in small bars in Portugal, without amplification or bravado. Her three guitar players played without amplification, she sang without a microphone, but the music filled the room, as if we were transported to a small bar in Lisbon. A stunning ending to a breathtaking night.

If you ever have the chance, please see both of these artists, these strong women. Their performances go beyond music. They encompass history, culture, poetry, civilization. It would be an evening you won't soon forget.

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