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Lila Downs Stands Up for Migrant Families in Cover of Manu Chao’s ‘Clandestino’

“If we don’t fight for the children,” asks Lila Downs, “what will become of us?”

Lila Downs confronts the U.S. government's treatment of migrant families in 'Clandestino'.

Photo courtesy of Sony Music

When indie luminary Manu Chao first released his 1998 debut, Clandestino — and the song of the same title — he sought to humanize the millions of migrants, survivors of civil war and poverty, hustling to survive on the mean streets of European cities. Often derided as “clandestinos,” or what those in the English-language world refer to derogatorily as “illegals,” undocumented migrants and their stories pervaded Manu Chao’s now-classic album — which at times explored his own relationship to immigration, as a child of political refugees from Spain.

Now, recorded over two decades since its original release, Grammy-winning Mexican folk singer Lila Downs bounds back fiercely with her own take on “Clandestino” — her critical gaze affixed upon the southern border of the United States. “This time around,” Downs tells Rolling Stone, “I mention the immigrant children in the detention centers and sing from the feminine perspective, about the thousands of women and children who migrate today.

“Ten thousand years ago, the first humans came over the Bering Strait,” she continues. “Human immigration has been the universal human story.”

Much like Manu Chao, Oaxaca native Downs first made her mark in the Nineties with multilingual work songs — biting social critiques in English, Spanish, Mixtec and a number of other indigenous languages. As detention centers across the United States tear apart migrant families and hold them indefinitely captive  — and to extremely traumatizing results — Downs’ haunting cumbia ballad is electrified by her heartfelt calls for action. “If we don’t fight for the children,” she interjects in “Clandestino,” “What will become of us?”

“Clandestino” follows lead single, “Cariñito,” off her upcoming ninth album, Al Chile, which is due for release on May 3rd. Produced by Mexican Institute of Sound alumni Camilo Lara, and mixed by Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato Jr., Downs has described the LP as an homage to the chili pepper, and its piquant power to unite people from all walks of life. The singer will kick off her U.S. tour in May, with opening act Helado Negro at the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles.

Lila Downs 2019 Tour Dates

May 8 – Stanford, CA @ Bing Hall
May 10 – Los Angeles, CA @ Walt Disney Hall
May 11 – Escondido, CA @ California Center for the Arts
May 16-19 – San Francisco, CA @ Miner Auditorium
May 21 – Seattle, WA @ Meany Center for the Performing Arts
July 14 – Grass Valley, CA @ California WorldFest
August 11 – New York, NY
August 13 – Alexandria, VA @ The Birchmere

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