Lila Downs and Isabelle Faust



I wonder at the great variety of music available to us, not just recorded, but for real.

I heard two amazing women play in Boston on successive nights. Both have incredible stage presence. Isabelle Faust was energetic, though poised and reserved, without a hint of the virtuoso’s self-indulgence. Lila Downs was also energetic—dancing, leaping, or undulating her arms seductively, lifting her head and smiling beguilingly between phrases.

Both are real women—not girls—Downs being the older of the two, perhaps approaching forty. She has a physique acquiring substance, whereas Faust is tall and slender, though statuesque. There was a difference between their outfits, too. Faust was in a real soloist’s gown—red, full-length with a train, and flared crepe sleeves that accentuated the movement of her arms. Downs wore tasseled boots, a black fringed wrap skirt short at the front and long at the back, an embroidered white corset, and, from time to time, a white shawl that she draped expressively about either her arms or her microphone stand. Faust’s hair was elfin—short, sideways-swept, and blonde. Downs’s tresses hung loose—long, black and glossy.

Both had their audiences on their feet applauding wildly, but only one received shouts of “¡Viva México!”—not surprisingly, for while Faust is German, Downs is half-American, half-Mexican, and self-identifies with the indigenous peoples of Central America. Their accompanists differed, too. Downs played with her traveling band of seven musicians—accordionist, guitarist, bass guitarist, drummer, conga player, saxophonist, and trumpeter. Faust performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

Their music was from different worlds—superficially, at least. Faust played the Beethoven Violin Concerto in D, Opus 61, first performed in 1806. Downs sang a range of mostly Mexican songs—traditional, cantina, and recent compositions. Faust played in Symphony Hall without amplification. Downs played in the nearby but far smaller Berklee Performance Center, with loudspeakers, and a light and video projection show.

Both were utterly stunning.

Interestingly, Leo, my hypercool sixteen-year-old son, could not be persuaded to go to the Lila Downs gig, but was eager (insofar as a hypercool sixteen-year-old will allow himself to appear eager) to hear Isabelle Faust. I’m relieved to have heard them both.

I wish I could include pictures of them, but I don’t want to infringe copyright, so I provide links to appropriate websites.

Isabelle Faust:

Lila Downs:

Check them out. Most of all, hear them both live if you get the chance!