On January 1, Lhasa De Sela died of breast cancer. She was 37 years old. And I can’t stop thinking about her.
La Llorona was the album you knew. Trust me. It played everywhere, replacing that pervasive Gypsy Kings album in the CD rotation at wine bars in the late 90’s.
Her music was accessible, but never bland. I was linked to this article by Naomi Klein and Avi Lewis on Common Dreams. It contains this great quote (Lhasa’s old friend Jules Beckman): “We have always heard something ancestral coming through her. She has always spoken from the threshold between the worlds, outside of time.”
Everything you heard about Lhasa sounded like it was constructed as a character study for some mythical muse. Her sprawling, nomadic family spent long periods in a traveling converted school bus. Her father was Mexican, her mother Amercian/Jewish. Her home was America, Quebec, Mexico, France. She spoke and sang in three languages. She left her singing career for a period at its height to join her sisters' circus company in France. She was a painter.
Sarah reminded me of the night we met her at a friend’s apartment in 1997. We had just seen her perform at a club on Parc and had been captivated by her dramatic, mysterious stage presence. I seem to remember that she won some award that night. And I was a little nervous to meet such a force. She was just about to release her first album.
She arrived late, looking distracted but reassuringly normal - the only thing reminiscent of that force we'd seen on stage was her meditative, private focus.
“I went for a long walk,” she said quietly. “I needed to make a decision.”