Why Lhasa De Sela Matters By Fred Goodman, 178 pgs.

Feb 13, 2020

This is the second entry from University of Texas Press’s “Matters” series that I’ve read. The first one I’d read, on the Ramones, was a fantastic effort which filled in gaps and made connections. With that said, I was already familiar with the band. It’s more difficult to come to these books without knowing the artist in question: certainly the singer Lhasa De Sela fits this bill. Prior to reading, I had never heard of her, much less listened to her music.

Born to itinerant parents, Lhasa’s innate curiosity as a child mixed with an artistic sensibility, allowing her to easily and seamlessly incorporate skills into her repertoire. She moved around as she came into her teen years, flirted briefly with hardcore—before splitting her head in the pit—and settled, for a time, in Montreal, where she began singing in clubs. Her 1997 debut La Llorona was comprised of songs full of heartbreak and wisdom that belied Lhasa’s youth, and garnered her attention in Canada. The record never broke in the States because it was too hard to sell: Lhasa De Sela was living in Canada and singing her songs in Spanish. Despite this, she played some high profile gigs, but felt unsatisfied and at wits end. So, she abandoned her singing career and joined a circus. Seriously: her sisters were living in France, working gigs as a traveling circus troupe, and she joined them. Wild, right?

After some years, she settled in Marseilles and began working with musicians on what would be her next record, 2003’s The Living Road. Her time off didn’t matter to critics and fans, who received her new stuff warmly as she toured widely. During preparation for her third album, Lhasa was diagnosed with breast cancer, to which she succumbed on January 1, 2010, shortly after her final album was released.

Throughout, Fred Goodman interviews band members, friends, and family, all of whom provide perspective on the travails which shaped Lhasa into the woman and artist she was. Writing an overview of such a bright and short life is difficult, but throughout Goodman managed to illuminate Lhasa’s motives, collaborations, and loves with the sort of rhythms and insights that felt more like a novel than a music biography. Despite the fact that Lhasa De Sela was completely new to me, I was engrossed though out my reading. Well worth the time of any music fan out there. –Michael T. Fournier (University of Texas Press)