The new year begins with the loss of a genuinely original voice in our world’s music.
Word has been slow to circulate, as the family mourns and final arrangements are made for the Montreal-based singer Lhasa de Sela. She was 37 when she died on New Year’s day after a long battle with breast cancer.
I discovered Lhasa’s music with her debut 1998 recording La Llorona. A friend who knew how much I loved the music of Violeta Parra suggested I might like Lhasa’s debut release, which had just come out. (The same friend turned me on Lila Downs. What would we ever do without our friends and the invaluable introductions like this that shape our listening lives?) I did enjoy it very much, appreciating in particular the intimacy and warmth of Lhasa’s singing and the strength of her songwriting.
Her 2003 followup recording, The Living Road, expands on the life experiences described in La Llorona as Lhasa’s own creative life flourished by moving to Marseilles. (She lived the rest of her life shared between France and Canada.) The Living Road is another solid collection of originals sung in French, Spanish, and English.
Lhasa’s final, eponymous recording was released last spring, and it’s her first recording sung entirely in English. I haven’t heard it yet. When I do, I know it will be with no small measure of sadness in realizing that Lhasa represents the final expression of an artistic spirit silenced far too soon.
The official obituary for Lhasa concludes with a line that is especially touching:
“It has snowed more than 40 hours in Montreal since Lhasa’s departure.”