Lhasa - Lhasa
I was overtaken by an eery sense the weekend after New Years when I thumbed through the local broadsheet's Arts and Entertainment section. Among the obligatory top 10 lists were a handful of album reviews covering many genres. The self-titled third release by Montreal-based, Mexican-American Lhasa caught my eye, not only because the reviewer conceded four and a half stars to the album but because the cover art somehow made me sad. Open the sleeve and she's smiling in communion, surrounded by her musician friends but the cover shot has been given sepia tones which age a photograph. Her strained smile reminded me of Second World War snaps I've seen where the subject's grin masks a deeper pain. I decided to include the opening country-flavored anthem from the disc, Is Anything Wrong as part of the week's episode of worldbeatcanada radio. After I tracked the show, I received a world music alert from Google. There was no way I could have known that Lhasa de Sela died on New Year's Day of breast cancer. She was 37 years old. If her debut La Llorona drew from her Latin American roots and her sophomore The Living Road from her time as a carny through Europe in her sisters' traveling circus show, then this album reflected her return to Montreal (recorded to tape at the Hotel 2 Tango) and most definitely focused inward more than her previous work. Gypsy swing, Mexican balladeering and cowboy lullabies all find a home on this disc. But what stands most striking apart from her plaintive, round, throaty voice and post-modern instrumental minimalism are the words she chooses. From the anticipated urgency of Is Anything Wrong, "I can wait another year or two but not one moment more. Is anything wrong, oh love is anything right, and how will we know, will time make us wise?" to the brave resignation of I'm Going In, "I'm going in, I'm going in. I can stand the pain and blinding heat, 'cause I won't remember you the next time we meet." Cancer is a scourge that has taken so many so early in their lives. This is supposed to be the future. Where are the cures? Where is the hope? What are the resources being wasted on? There are so many questions but only one certainty; 37 is far, far too short for any life.