I heard the sad news this week that Lhasa de Sela had passed away on the first day of the New Year. Lhasa’s music, particularly the one in the video featured below, helped get me through some rough times many years ago and still resonates. She was only 37 and had lived an uncommon life:
Lhasa’s unusual childhood was marked by long periods of nomadic wandering through Mexico and the U.S., with her parents and sisters in the school bus which was their home. During this period the children improvised, both theatrically and musically, performing for their parents on a nightly basis. Lhasa grew up in a world imbued with artistic discovery, far from conventional culture.
There’s a gypsy quality to her style and I was pleased when I read this about her traveling with her 3 sisters’ one ring traveling circus in France Pocheros. Her website is here and you can read more about her music and life. Lhasa de Sela. I love this quote from her bio that describes her music: “These are songs inspired by a warm country but written in a cold one, with a Brontë-like romanticism, a wry and literate sense of humor, and moments of startling emotional rawness. When they heard it, people from North America and Europe sighed and said “Ah, Mexico…”, and Mexicans said, “What strange music! Where is she from?”
I’m not a fan of overwrought emotionality and her music was emotional and soul-catching without the self-pitying cloyingness that can sometimes attach itself to sentiment. If you wish to listen to the music straight please go here to the MySpace page and listen to De Cara a la Pared or El Desierto in particular. She sings in Spanish, English and French – Rising and Fool’s Gold are good examples of her English work.
Here’s the YouTube performance of De Cara a la Pared – I don’t think the audio is as good here as it is on the MySpace page tho’
Suffice it to say, I was very sad to hear of her passing. Her music meant and still means a great deal to me. The combination of her music and what I’ve read of her life presents in my mind’s eye an image akin to a Cornell box full of snippets of images from children’s books, gypsy beads, spider webs and twigs and bright colored cloth … hmm rather than describing it perhaps I should build one. I guess that’s what it means to be an artist – the impact of your work carries on after your physical manifestation passes.
By the way, Lhasa passed from breast cancer. Perhaps scheduling an exam would be also be a good way to remember her.
I leave you with one more quote from her website:
An old friend of Lhasa’s, Jules Beckman, offered these words:”We have always heard something ancestral coming through her. She has always spoken from the threshold between the worlds, outside of time. She has always sung of human tragedy and triumph, estrangement and seeking with a Witness’s wisdom. She has placed her life at the feet of the Unseen.”