Lila Downs is a worldwide renowned native Mixtec Mexican American singer and activist with a passion for social justice whose musical career is rooted in rooted indigenous tradition. The Grammy Award-winning singer and songwriter has been recognized for albums such as 2011’s Pescados Y Milagros and 2014 release Raiz. Just in time for the election, Lila Downs released her newest song: “The Demagogue,” an anti-Trump anthem. “There’s a blue eyed devil man/ Thinks he’s king of the world,” she sings, backed by a chorus of guitars. “He’s a bully, a salesman / Selling fear and hate.”
“The Demagogue” is part of the “30 Days, 40 Songs” art series, a project from a group called Artists for a Trump-free America (led by McSweeney’s founder Dave Eggers and partner Jordan Kurland) that is releasing at least one anti-Trump song a day for the 30 days leading up to the election. With seven days to go, the project has already published songs by artists including Death Cab for Cutie, R.E.M, Adia Victoria, Mirah, and Aimee Mann. All proceeds from streaming the songs goes to the Center for Popular Democracy. Downs’s song is reminiscent of the 1970s nueva cancíon movement, in which artists like Victor Jara, Violeta Parra, and Mercedes Sosa sang in of protest the violent rule of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet and Argentina’s military junta. In fact, in “The Demagogue,” Downs warns the world about history repeating itself and the dark times that may lay ahead if people don’t speak up now.
Born of a Mixtec mother from Oaxaca and a caucasian British-American father, Downs grew up on both sides of the border. Trump’s candidacy hits home for her as a biracial woman who is a self-proclaimed “border person.” Individuals from all walks of life have made their homes in the area surrounding the border, but Trump has staged his whole campaign around a promise to build a wall along that border that has become as a political and cultural symbol of segregation.
“It makes me very angry when people insult the area I love so much,” Downs told me in an interview last week. “His speeches only resonate to a society that is in need of racism, hate, insecurity, and aggression towards people who work the hardest and provide services for the economy.”
Downs’s revolutionary track boldly asks the question, “Where is the humanity in the words that fall out of Trump’s mouth?” Simply put, there is none. “No respect for woman, no respect for race/ No respect for anything that lives, the human race,” she sings. “But he cannot buy our soul.” Downs sees the sexism and racism of the world as a spark for change. “Use that as fuel to educate people, all kinds of people, about the importance of diversity and people’s stories,” she told me.
In the song, Downs’s unique imagery paints a powerful picture of violent leaders seizing power throughout history. As the lyrics go, “The serpent woke again/ In different times and places/ There’s a burning cross/ Leading the mob/ People in chains.” This detailed description is multifaceted. As Downs explained to me, the serpent is a positive symbol among her own ethnic group, but it represents something that is dormant and can come up and bite at any time. Downs refuses to regress back to a time where blatant hatred against people used to thrive.
She ends the song with the chorus: “I’m gonna rise up singing/ I’m gonna stand up for this place/ It’s a long time, Mi Gente/ There’s no turning back.”