When Julieta García arrived at Macky Auditorium one Saturday afternoon last month, she only had a vague idea of what to expect. It wasn’t until the junior from Jacona, Michoacán in Mexico, saw the stage that reality sunk in.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” she says. “I had never been in a show like that before. When I saw the stage and musicians set up for the soundcheck, I thought, ‘What did I get myself into?’”
That night, March 3, Mexican artist Lila Downs would be performing to a sold-out audience in her signature “cantina-classical” style. And for one song—a traditional purépecha tune from her home region—García would be up there with her.
“I’ve been a fan for as long as I can remember. She’s such an idol to me,” García says.
Indeed, her admiration of Downs—who has made a career of melding traditional and popular music from Mexico—started when García was a music conservatory student. Downs visited the Conservatorio de las Rosas in Morelia, Mexico, and presented a master class.
“She’s such an avid fighter for the rights of indigenous people,” García says. “She’s one of the people who has brought to the world what being Mexican really is. And she’s done it through music, which is such a wonderful thing.”
García’s background in music can be traced back to the traditions of her purépecha grandfather. As a professor and native speaker of the purépecha language, he brought culture into García’s home environment, also instilling in her a love of music from an early age.
“I loved music because of my grandfather,” she says. “We grew up with him, always with a book around, always listening to music. He would turn on the TV and watch ballets and orchestra concerts.
“That’s why I have a passion for music, why I sang in different choirs and in church, and why singing grew into a profession for me.”
Those traditions were with García the night of her performance with Downs. She wore an authentic purépecha dress that was made for the occasion by a woman she met in the small town of Nurio.
“I saw her in the street when I was home over winter break and asked here where I could by a purépecha dress,” García explains. “She told me she could make me one. She turned out to be an award-winning dressmaker. Lila complimented the dress at the concert.”
The dress, Downs’ presence on stage and the crowd made the night one García won’t soon forget. “It was just a marvelous experience. I’ve never felt so proud and so free,” she says. “As soon as I stepped out on stage, I saw people whom I’d never met shouting my name. And they were mostly Chicanos or immigrants from Mexico, and I hope I gave that feeling of openness and warmness back to them through my singing.”
Professor of Ethnomusicology Brenda Romero helped orchestrate the meeting when she heard Downs was coming to Boulder for CU Presents’ Artist Series. She had interviewed Downs in the past and took several students to the concert last month to see her perform.
According to Romero, it’s opportunities like these that make the Artist Series invaluable for CU students. “People like Lila are a tremendous inspiration for students,” she says “The fact that Julieta could be on stage with her and have a chance to introduce herself to that audience—she was so excited and happy.”
Romero will perform the same purépecha song with García at the Latin American Ensemble Concert on April 22.
Season tickets are now on sale for the 2018-19 Artist Series, which welcomes show-stopping musical acts Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sarah Chang and many more world-class acts to Macky Auditorium next year. For information, visit cupresents.org.