Omar + Lila

Though he landed on the UK music scene in about 1990, Omar Lye-Fook first registered on my radar when his For Pleasure dropped in 1994 and I fell in musical love (as did Angie Stone, Common, Erykah Badu, Estelle, even Stevie Wonder, all of whom have recorded with him.)  The velvet-voiced multi-instrumentalist was a fresh alternative to the R.Kellian ilk.  With his heavy touring schedule, I’ve seen him several times since at Joe’s Pub, SOB’s The Canal Room and Brooklyn’s Southpaw, enjoying every soulful, spirit-raising gig. I revisited SOB’s last week for yet another Omar sighting, and yes, the crush continues.  An evening with Omar is a veritable love fest, a family reunion of sorts, where loyal fans gather blithely together in shared ardor for the oft-pierced performer.  Petty grievances are cast aside and knowing hugs given. Head-bobs and hands thrown up, it’s all love.

I first caught wind of Lila Downs in when she appeared in the 2002 film Frida and have been reintroduced more recently by a friend who enthuses mightily about her Sade-esque vocals on the reggae-tinged single, One Blood (2004.)  When I heard that she was headlining the Latin Music Series at Celebrate Brooklyn, I grabbed some music-head compadres and boarded the “F” to Prospect Park.  We arrived just as she took the stage.  Her range is phenomenal; she glides effortlessly from smoky contralto to ether-grazing heights without capricious pretense.  Her father, a Scottish-American filmmaker met her mother, a Mixtec Indian singer when he traveled to Mexico to film a documentary.  Her peripatetic upbringing in Tlaxiaco in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, St. Paul, Minnesota and later schooling in California gives her a tremendously appealing openness as an artist. She joyfully embraces the music of her Mixteco heritage, using it as both celebration and didactic discourse, her study of anthropology evident in the melding of other cultures indigenous to Mesoamerica.

Her band was tight: her husband, saxophonist, Paul Cohen; on the Brazilian accordion, Rob Curto; the consummate harpist, Celso Duarte; guitarist/vocalist, Juancho Herrera; bassist, Booker King; drummer, Yayo Serka; percussionist, Samuel Torres and Lila herself, variously on guitar and percussion. We were floored!  I wanted to chat her up and share a Mezcal. Her energy is boundless and fun and like Omar, she seems to truly enjoy the music, her audience and her incredible gift.

Her new CD drops September 2 and she’ll be in concert at NYC’s Town Hall on September 15 at 8pm.


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