Mexican folk legend Lila Downs has covered Manu Chao’s classic song “Clandestino” in protest of current U.S. immigration policies, and she has transformed Chao’s composition into something that’s completely her own.
Downs’ rendition preserves the original lyrics of the song, which focus on people renouncing their identities to look for something else, living like outlaws because of a lack of documentation. However, ad-libs like “if we’re not going to take care of our children, who will?” take on new meaning in the era of family separation, given the traumatic aftermath of the Trump administration’s cruel practice, which has left hundreds of Central American youth in limbo.
Like some of the best Lila Downs tracks, “Clandestino” isn’t a lament, but rather a celebration, and one in which social consciousness elevates the musical form to protest. Downs takes the original reggae pace of the Manu Chao version and flips it into a mid-tempo cumbia, while producer Camilo Lara adds elements of dub-reggae that bridge the gap between the two versions. Through the cheeky musical additions and her inimitable vocal stylings, Downs infuses her own artistry in the track, while still allowing the listener to appreciate the elements that made the Chao original such a global smash.
“Clandestino” is a sneak peek of Lila Downs’ new record Al Chile, which was produced by Lara and mixed by frequent Beastie Boys collaborator Mario Caldato Jr. Al Chile will be available on May 3 in all streaming platforms. To celebrate the release of her new album, she will be performing on May 10 at the Walt Disney Hall in Los Angeles with support from Helado Negro, which should be magical.
Listen to her version of “Clandestino” here: