Lila Downs is a bicultural border-crosser who grew up both in Minnesota and the Sierra Madre mountains and Oaxaca in Mexico. She has a strong interest in Mexico's native cultures; her mother is a Zapotec Indian, and Downs has studied and sung in languages including Zapotec, Nahuatl, Maya and Mixtec. Though as a college student she intended to sing opera, a period of soul-searching (which included following the Grateful Dead around) led her to investigate traditional Mexican music, albeit through a modern, jazz-influenced filter. She toured with bands like los Cadetes de Yodoyuxi and la Trova Serrana, and began to find her signature style when she hooked up with saxophonist Paul Cohen. From 1999's La Sandunga to 2004's Una Sangre: One Blood, Downs has carved a unique niche for herself: an innovator working off of native traditions, she's both a champion of native cultures and a darling of the world music scene.