​Lila’s Dream Team

By: José Manuel Simián

On her first release since 2011’s Pecados y Milagros, Lila Downs was presented with an unusual challenge: record with two artists she admired but who came from different genres—flamenco singer Niña Pastori and Argentine folk star Soledad.

“None of us is really a purist,” says Downs from Mexico City about her partners in crime right before the beginning of her current American tour. “It was a bit of a challenge, because the three of us have very different styles, but we ended up learning a lot from each other.”

“I particularly learned a lot from flamenco,” she adds, about the genre that dominates the first tracks of Raíz. “The phrasing is very complex, and the rhythm patterns are extremely sophisticated. I think understanding what Niña Pastori does in her songs and getting that phrasing right was a challenge for me, and for Soledad, too.”

“Something similar happened with the phrasing of ‘Sole’ in certain tracks—it’s very particular. Zamba and other Argentine genres were foreign to me, but in the end it all fit together. You can see that in ‘La Raíz de Mi Tierra,’ the piece the three of us wrote: we come from different musical genres, but you can find a way to make them fit.”

As for the eclectic repertoire of Raíz, Downs says it came from the collective nature of the project: each singer could choose a few songs from the catalog of the other two. In her case, for instance, Downs chose Soledad’s “Tren del Cielo” and the tango standard “El Día Que Me Quieras,” while Niña Pastori chose Downs’s “Agua de Rosas” and Solead, “Zapata Se Queda.” Then, each singer’s arranger would take the chosen song and put it in the context of the artist who had picked it.

“And when we shared with each other what our arrangers had done with the other’s song, sometimes we’d be stunned.”

“Take for instance ‘Zapata Se Queda,’” Downs says of her half-time son off Pecados y Milagros. “Soledad’s arranger set it to an Andean rhythm that is used for war songs. Think about that: it’s a song that talks about Mexico’s greatest caudillo, but the new arrangement, with the zampoñas, it went to a completely different place!”

LOGISTICS: Raíz by Lila Downs, Niña Pastori and Soledad, available now

José Manuel Simián is the Executive Editor of Manero. He used to be a lawyer and is probably listening to Bob Dylan as you read this.