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Latin-American superstar singer Lila Downs coming to San Diego

Soulful singer Lila Downs performs April 17 at Jacobs Music Center

Soulful singer Lila Downs performs April 17 at Copley Symphony Hall

Lila Downs
Lila Downs
Elena Pardo

The latest (and hottest!) performer in San Diego Symphony’s International Passport Series, which has included Chinese acrobats, Argentine tango dancers, Russian ballet and the Vienna Boys Choir, is superstar singer/songwriter Lila Downs, soaring into Copley Symphony Hall with her back-up band, La Misteriosa, Friday, April 17.

She may not be a household name here, but this daughter of a Mixtec Indian singer and a Minnesota art professor has made a name for herself in World Music with her soulful renditions of Latin-American songs. Born in the state of Oaxaca, and partly raised in Minnesota and California, she has won both Latin and American Grammys, and has been featured at international jazz festivals, the Latino Inaugural Ball for President Obama, the opening ceremonies for the 2011 Pan American Games and the 2012 Latin Grammys on Univision.

She had a small but notable part as the Tango Singer in Julie Taymor’s 2012 film “Frida,” and sang one of the songs from that score at the 75th Academy Awards show. And maybe we should mention that her look is as gorgeous as her sound?

Lila Downs’ unique style is a rich mix of the traditional music of Mexico with touches of jazz, blues, country, hip-hop and flamenco.

She considers herself a social activist — singing out on behalf of indigenous people, compassionate human connections and the environment. Downs has previously performed at 4th & B, House of Blues and Humphreys, but this will be her first appearance at Symphony Hall, and the first part of a U.S./Canadian tour to promote the release of her latest album, “Balas y Chocolate” (Bullets and Chocolate), which addresses some of the problems in Mexico and the rest of the world.

“I think songwriters have the unique capacity to give a voice to the voiceless, and stir emotions in people who might otherwise want to turn away,” Downs said. “Music really penetrates the body and soul, and I love touring, because the band and I get a chance to interact with our audiences face to face.”

Another thing she said she loves about touring is that it’s a family affair, including her husband and musical director Paul Cohen, who also plays saxophone in the band, and their four-year-old son, Benito.

If you’ve never heard Lila Downs before, now would be a great time. You can expect passionate protest songs, upbeat folk tunes, lush ballads. It doesn’t matter if you understand the language; your body and soul will feel what she’s singing about. u

n IF YOU GO: San Diego Symphony International Passport Series: Lila Downs performing with her band, La Misteriosa. (San Diego Symphony will not perform.) 
8 p.m. Friday, April 17, Copley Symphony Hall, 750 B St., downtown San Diego. Tickets: $20-$85 (619) 235-0804. sandiegosymphony.org