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Anna Lila Downs Sánchez was born in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, Mexico in 1968, and grew up there and in Minneapolis, Minnesota. She began singing ranchera music at an early age, and later sang at the fiestas of the towns in her mountain region, la Mixteca. She sang with the band Los Cadetes de Yodoyuxi and later with La Trova Serrana, a group of folk musicians from the Zapotec town of Guelatao, oaxaca. At that time she met her musical collaborator Paul Cohen and began to create her own musical compositions, which tap into native Mesoamerican music of the Mixtec, Zapotec, Maya and Nahuatl cultures.