World Music Central’s interview with the increasingly popular singer and world traveler Lhasa:
How did growing up in different places and countries affect your music?
It was growing up in different places and on the road, but also growing up without television and for many years without school, so we were pretty isolated from the culture at large both in Mexico and the States. And this was a choice that my parents made. They were interested in who their children were and at the same time forced us to deal with complex situations very early. They lived by their ideals as much as they could.
As adults my sisters and I all became traveling performers with very high standards as far as not bullshitting ourselves and other people and trying with all our might to do work that’s really alive, charismatic, brave, and beautiful.
When did you realize you wanted to become a singer?
I always, always sang constantly, from the time I was four. But I decided to be a singer when I was 12.
Why do you think an album in Spanish by an artist based in Canada became so popular in countries such as France?
France is incredibly supportive of the arts; the government, the record companies, the theatres, the media, the audience, the record stores are all so used to music that comes from all over the world. So when my album came along there was a place for it. It was easy for people who might be interested in it to find out about it and find it. So it was like having the wind in my sails, my music arrived in France and found its audience, which turned out to be bigger than anyone expected. In other places sometimes we’ve had to get out the oars and paddle. But that’s ok too.
Your previous album was only in Spanish. The new album has songs in French and English. What motivated you to sing in other languages?
I live in three languages…In a way, the question I ask myself is, why was the first album in one language? And the answer is that singing in Spanish gave me courage, gave me guts, helped me to get off the ground. It helped me in a lot of ways; the language, the whole world of images and memories that I associated with Spanish, my childhood. Also, singing in French or English I would have immediately found myself in a "market". Because I was singing in Spanish in Canada, I seemed to be coming out of nowhere, and I was allowed to find my own voice. Now I feel I’ve found my own voice, and I can sing in English and French too.
Many modern musicians are digging into their roots. Are you planning to work with Mexican or other Latin musicians in the future?
I don’t know yet what I’ll be doing for the next album. I do have the lifelong dream of singing with mariachis. But you know, my roots are very tangled! I have Lebanese, Panamanian, Polish, Russian, French, Scottish and Spanish blood. So I consider I have been digging into my roots already. Working with mariachis would be like choosing one root and unraveling it. But really I would do it because I love Mexican music so much and it would be like flying to be backed up by mariachis. Still I guess my priority is to make my own music, whatever that may be. There’ll be time to make cover albums when I’m 70!
What other artists do you listen to?
Right now I’m listening to Devendra Banhart who is a wonder of the world in my humble opinion. Also recently I discovered Cat Power, who is amazing. Camarón, the great flamenco singer; Oum Khoulsoum [Um Kulthum] the Egyptian virtuoso; Anouar Brahem, the Tunisian ud player who writes beautiful poetic simple and profound music…Nina Simone…Radiohead…Bob Dylan…Fairuz, the beautiful gentle and passionate Lebanese singer…Simón Díaz from Venezuela, who is another wonder of the world…
You’ve traveled and moved quite a bit. Where is your home now?