It’s no surprise that singer Lila Downs is working on a new musical project centered on Day of the Dead and chocolate.
The celebration of the dead is profoundly observed in Oaxaca where her mother was born, where Downs spends much of her time, and chocolate, well, is universally loved.
The new project represents an extension of her passions and intellectual pursuits. Downs studied cultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota, where her father was a professor. In the Day of the Dead she finds poetry and beauty in the transformation from life to death, and in chocolate she finds the history of the Americas.
Chocolate, in pre-Columbian days, was used as currency but it also “represents the excesses of life,” said Downs in a telephone interview from her Oaxaca home.
“It is also yummy in its elaboration,” added Downs who previously has sung about the joys of mole, the rich Mexican sauce.
Downs, who has earned Grammy and Latin Grammy awards for her invigorating and versatile work, returns to Tucson Monday for a show at The Rialto Theatre. She has previously performed at Centennial Hall on the university campus and Fox Tucson Theatre.
While she is working on her next project, Downs is touring the United States promoting her newest recording, “Raíz,” a collaboration with Argentine folk/pop singer Soledad and Spanish flamenco singer Niña Pastori. The music focuses on the influence of Andalucian rhythms on the music of México and Argentina.
Downs has long been fascinated by cultural roots, and the musical connections between people. Her music reflects those ties as she incorporates various musical forms and rhythms, including indigenous, jazz and gypsy.
She often collaborates with other artists. Most recently she recorded with guitarist Carlos Santana.
In addition to culture, Downs expresses social activism in her songs. The migration of Central American children to the U.S. has moved her to write music about the “most vulnerable people.”
The influx of refugees has created “an opportunity for people to become more conscious of what migration implies,” said Downs. “I think it’s a good moment for spiritual reflection.”