The Best of Mexican Popular Music Comes to Toronto

Isabel Martínez

Lila DownsThis summer, two of the most important artists in Mexican popular music are coming to Toronto as part of the Pan American Games’ Panamania programme: Lila Downs (July 15) and Café Tacvba (July 22). If your knowledge of Mexican music is limited to mariachi, this is a chance to expand your vision of the rich cultural heritage of a country with an increasingly significant presence in Canada’s multicultural mosaic.

Born in Oaxaca, Mexico, singer-songrwriter Ana Lila Downs Sánchez is the daughter of Mixtec Singer Anita Sánchez and of Scottish-American art professor and film director Allen Downs. Lila grew up in Oaxaca, California, and Minnesota, where she graduated from the University of Minnesota with two degrees: social anthropology and singing. She takes an anthropological approach to music, as varied as the ancient cultures that continue to serve as her inspiration. Downs is usually accompanied on her musical journeys by her long-time band, La Misteriosa, a multicultural and multi-instrumental ensemble that includes Paul Cohen, her collaborator, producer and husband. The topics covered in her music often involve politics and social justice, and she endeavours to make a meaningful connection with her different audiences through her music and her performances. Her bicultural background is evident in the hybrid nature of her musical style, and gives her a truly insightful perspective on the often painful relations between Mexico and its powerful neighbour to the north. This perspective is expressed with great force on her CDs Border/La línea (2001) and Una Sangre/One Blood (2004), two of the most successful albums of her musical career.

Cafe TacvbaCafé Tacvba is an alternative rock band originally from Ciudad Satélite in the State of Mexico. They took their name from a well-known café in Mexico City’s historic centre, so named for its location on the street Calle Tacuba. To avoid a potential legal dispute with the restaurant, the group decided to employ a classical writing style for their name, replacing the “u” with a “v”, thereby creating the peculiar and now-famous way of writing their name. The members of the group are Rubén Isaac Albarrán Ortega (lead singer and rhythm guitar), Emmanuel del Real Díaz (keyboards and backing vocals), José Alfredo Rangel Arroyo (guitar) and Enrique Rangel Arroyo (bass and double bass). Formed in 1989, the group achieved international success with their album Re in 1994, a highly diverse collection of songs in styles ranging from traditional Mexican bolero to punk rock. In view of its musical diversity and its impact on Latin American rock, this album was described by the New York Times as the equivalent of the Beatles’ “White Album” for Spanish language rock. Other albums like Revés/Yo soy (winner of a Latin Grammy in 1997), Cuatro Caminos and Sino display the extraordinary breadth of their musical influences, which include electronic music and British rock (particularly The Who). Now celebrating 25 years together, Café Tacvba continues to be considered one of Latin America’s best rock bands.

The presence of these two musical legends in Toronto this July will be cause for celebration, both for Mexicans living in this city and for English Canadians who want to know more about the richness and diversity of Mexican popular music.

Lila Downs will perform on July 15 at 7:30 p.m and Café Tacvba will perform on July 22 at 9:45 p.m., at Nathan Philips Square, as part of the Pan American Games Panamania cultural programme.

Translated by Martin Boyd

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