After attending the Lila Downs show at Herbst on Wednesday night I realized in a more profound way why I was disappointed by Shakira's show a couple of weeks back. There's nothing in common between the shows or the performers, believe me I know this, except both women sing most of their music in Spanish. However, for a gringo like myself, who shamefully doesn't have a second language, I tend to look at Latin music first through a wide lens and then focus on the details of the different genres more specifically. I'm sure casual opera goers don't make much of a distinction between an opera by Handel and one by Puccini, even though they have almost nothing in common. That comes with experience in the form itself. That's about the best analogy I can come up with at the moment, lame as it is.
Downs' sold-out show at the Herbst Theater on Wednesday was an 1 1/2 hour ride of pure musical soul delivered with passion and exuberance. Her voice is amazing and her ability to hold and elongate notes is better than most opera singers I've heard. Easily crossing genres singing corrido, ranchera, banda, and jumping jive to name a just a few, Downs has obviously not only absorbed the music of Mexico to her core, but she's feasted on music from across the Americas and made it her own. She's not a great dancer, but you can't take your eyes off of her. She's not sexy in an obvious way like Shakira or Paulina, but she leaves no doubt who's the real mami. In short, Downs is an artist- Shakira is an act. Not that there is anything wrong with an "act," but seeing and hearing an artist, especially one as masterful and entertaining as Downs, is much more satisfying.
An amazing world-class talent backed by a fantastic band, this was another marvelous concert presented by SFJazz, whose fall festival last another two weeks. The next time she's in town, consider it a not-to-be-missed gig.