At $82 Billion, Uber’s Market Debut To Be The Biggest In Five Years

A photographer holds up a smartphone with the Uber app at Tegel Airport in Berlin on Nov. 20, 2018. Uber is going public on Friday in a highly anticipated IPO.

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The ride-hailing company Uber is making its stock market debut on Friday, with shares priced at $45, the lower end of the possible range, and a total market value of about $82 billion.

That’s a relatively conservative approach for this initial public offering. A few months ago, analysts were expecting Uber’s IPO to be far bigger than this. A $100 billion valuation was seen as reasonable — some even floated $120 billion.

But it’s a rough week for the stock market, which is watching President Trump’s rhetoric on trade with concern. And Uber’s smaller ride-hailing rival Lyft saw its stock values plummet after an ambitiously priced IPO last month.

Still, this is the largest U.S. initial public offering since Alibaba’s record-setting IPO in 2014.

Uber, which has never turned a profit, expects to raise $8.1 billion in the IPO.

Uber has expanded dramatically since its founding a decade ago — in user base, in geographic scope and in ambition. Once focused on helping wealthy users hail private limos as an alternative to taxis, Uber embraced a peer-to-peer model where almost anyone could become a driver. Like Lyft, it began offering carpooling options where you share a ride with a stranger.

As Lyft focused on ride-hailing in the U.S., Uber took another path — expanding its global footprint and diversifying its services, offering food delivery, freight shipping and electric bike rentals.

But all that growth was expensive. Uber, like Lyft, has never made a profit. Instead, the company has burned through prodigious quantities of venture capital as it slashes prices to compete with rivals and invests any earnings into expansion.

Plenty of investors see big profits in Uber’s future — in the long term. These profits depend on Uber outlasting rivals, raising rates and cutting costs. Investors point to the company’s massive size, and the tremendous potential markets for its many services: ordering takeout, receiving packages, even getting groceries delivered.

“They want to be able to touch consumers across all aspects of how they utilize transportation,” says Ygal Arounian, an equity analyst at Wedbush Securities.

And autonomous vehicles, if they begin to replace drivers, could let Uber keep a bigger chunk of what users pay.

All the money raised through this IPO will help Uber chase that vision. But there are major obstacles, too.

While the technology behind autonomous or self-driving cars has come a long way, the cars are nowhere near ready for widespread, human-free deployment. And after a self-driving Uber hit and killed a pedestrian last year, Uber’s own tests have slowed down.

Meanwhile, with autos that aren’t autonomous ruling the roads, Uber relies on its community of drivers for its business model to work. And many drivers aren’t happy: On Wednesday, groups held strikes and protests in cities in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia to push for higher pay and better working conditions.

A small group of independent drivers and supporters protest against Uber and other app-based ride-hailing companies near the Wall Street Charging Bull on May 8 in New York City. Drivers called for higher wages and better rights as Uber prepares to go public.

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Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Nabilia Nusrat, who drives for Uber in New York, told NPR she was striking to protest the meager amount of money that drivers make from the overall fares. “Kinda like the big fish making all the money,” she said. “I’m at the bottom of the chain so I’m getting pressed.”

In Los Angeles, James Hicks said that both Uber and Lyft have been reducing drivers’ take-home pay. Uber recently cut per-mile rates in Los Angeles by 25 percent.

“Uber and Lyft have been stealing from their drivers almost since the beginning of introducing their respective businesses,” Hicks said Wednesday.

Drivers’ protests have seen some gains. New York City passed a minimum pay requirement for drivers who work on ride-hailing platforms. A California court ruling found that drivers, currently treated as independent contractors, might be employees entitled to benefits.

At a protest outside Uber’s company headquarters in San Francisco on Wednesday, Mostafa Maklad said he feels emboldened by those successes. He’s been driving for Uber for four years, but this is his first protest for a living wage.

“There have been several attempts before, but every time when people organize against Uber, Uber has always been managing to shut it down or kill it,” he said. Now? “If they’re not going to reach out to us, the law will force them to.”

Uber’s brand has been dinged by more than driver complaints. The company continues to cope with the fallout of years of bad behavior and a toxic corporate culture — everything from illegal business practices to reports of sexual harassment.

Then there’s the question of regulation, and how a rising tide of populism might affect Uber’s agenda. The company aspires to become a monopoly in transportation, using Wall Street money to overcome rivals.

At the same time, several progressive Democratic candidates running in the 2020 election are either calling for or considering moves to break up big tech giants. New legislation in that direction could threaten Uber’s growth goals.

But many analysts who are optimistic about Uber’s future take comfort in the example set by another tech giant, Facebook. Its practices have violated user privacy and raised alarms over monopoly power. But after CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he expected to pay a multi-billion dollar fine to regulators, Facebook’s stock jumped more than seven percent — indicating that investors believe the fine is not a real threat to Facebook’s future.

Uber’s history, too, suggests the company won’t see its path blocked any time soon. The company grew as big as it did by openly ignoring municipal laws for taxicabs. Such rule breaking has been essential to Uber’s business model, said Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute.

“They go into cities. They get a bunch of customers. And then they get those customers to lobby their city council to change the law. “

In the next phase, Stoller predicts, Uber could try to bypass antitrust laws.

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FCC Blocks Chinese Company’s Bid For International Phone Services In The U.S.

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said Thursday that the commission has rejected China Mobile USA’s application to provide phone services between the United States and other countries because of national security risks.

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The Federal Communications Commission has blocked a Chinese company from providing international phone services in the United States, citing national security concerns as tensions persist between Washington and Beijing.

China Mobile USA, though a Delaware corporation, is ultimately owned and controlled by the Chinese government, according to the FCC. The company filed an application in 2011 to provide international communications services.

“There is a significant risk that the Chinese government would use China Mobile to conduct activities that would seriously jeopardize the national security, law enforcement, and economic interests of the United States,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said.

“Among other things, if this application were granted, the Chinese government could use China Mobile to exploit our telephone network to increase intelligence collection against U.S. government agencies and other sensitive targets that depend on this network.”

China Mobile USA does not provide domestic services in the United States, an FCC spokesperson says.

If the application had been granted, the company would have been able to connect to the U.S. network, receiving greater access to telephone lines, cellular networks, fiber-optic cables and communication satellites — heightening the risk of communications being monitored, degraded and disrupted.

In 2018, the U.S. Department of Commerce communicated with the company and the U.S. intelligence community before recommending the application be denied. Last month, the FCC indicated that it intended to follow through with that recommendation in a draft order.

Thursday’s announcement came after a unanimous 5-0 vote from the FCC’s Republican and Democratic commissioners.

After the vote, Pai said the agency was also examining authorizations that had been previously granted to two other Chinese firms, China Telecom and China Unicom.

China Mobile USA is a subsidiary of China Mobile Limited, which did not immediately respond to NPR’s request for comment.

Lawyers representing China Mobile USA said the drafted order to reject the company’s application was guided “more by tensions in the bilateral U.S.-China relationship than an absence of effective mitigation options.”

The denied application is the latest indication of a growing rift between the United States and China. Amid a trade war, the Trump administration has insisted that Chinese telecom company Huawei has ties to the government and that its equipment could be used to spy on people or commit economic espionage.

Congress has banned government agencies and contractors from buying Huawei equipment, prompting Huawei to sue the U.S. government.

Reuters reported that for more than a year, President Trump has also been considering an executive order that would block American companies from using equipment manufactured by Huawei and its competitor, ZTE.

In March, U.S. authorities warned allies in Europe to ban Huawei from their 5G communication networks or face the possibility of receiving less intelligence from U.S. agencies. Germany declined to exclude the company.

Huawei founder and CEO Ren Zhengfei denied the alleged links to Chinese intelligence and said the company would refuse government requests to share customer information.

A FCC spokesperson told NPR that ownership of China Mobile USA traces to the China Mobile Communications Corporation, which is “subject to the supervision of the State-Owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission,” a part of the Chinese government managed under the State Council.

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With Some Players Bowing Out, Trump Hosts Red Sox At The White House

President Trump holds up a Red Sox team jersey that was presented to him by outfielder J.D. Martinez Thursday at the White House.

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

President Trump honored the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox at a White House ceremony Thursday, lauding the team as a “shining example of excellence” in “an American sporting tradition that goes back many generations.”

But the tradition of an apolitical While House celebration has become something of a thing of the past, with the invitation from Trump becoming more of a loaded loyalty test, forcing players to pick sides. Roughly a third of the team skipped the event in protest.

The day began with many mocking the White House for its online gaffe welcoming the “Boston Red Socks” (sic).

“I need you to go to a store there in Boston and buy a package of red socks. Yes, that’s right, red ones. Well the Sox aren’t going to make it to the White House so I thought the President could welcome some actual red socks.”

— John Litzler (@JohnLitzler) May 9, 2019

But the Sox are having their own awkward moment, as those who attended the White House celebration, and those who passed, are divided almost perfectly along racial lines. Every white player went, while almost every person of color who wears a Sox uniform opted out, including Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and David Price.

Manager Alex Cora says it was the Trump administration’s position on hurricane relief to his native Puerto Rico that was keeping him away, according to the English online version of the Puerto Rican newspaper El Nuevo Día.

I’ve used my voice on many occasions so that Puerto Ricans are not forgotten,” Cora told the paper. “And my absence [from the White House] is no different. As such, at this moment, I don’t feel comfortable celebrating in the White House.”

President Trump poses with the 2018 World Series Champions Boston Red Sox at the White House in Thursday.

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Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

The Red Sox players are hardly the first to stay home to protest the Trump administration, but it comes as the ball club has been making great efforts to live down its reputation as a racist organization, a legacy that owner John Henry has said has “haunted” the team. Last year, the team successfully fought to change the name of Yawkey Street alongside Fenway Park, to distance the team from its late, former owner Tom Yawkey, who was known as much for his historically racist ball club as he was for his great philanthropy.

The team’s current owners have also launched a program promoting inclusion called “Take the Lead” and they have taken a zero tolerance stance against racist fans, banning offenders for life. Red Sox CEO Sam Kennedy says the team didn’t want to make a political statement by snubbing the White house. But many say the Sox split decision is another kind of statement.

“It’s basically the white Sox who’ll be going” as one local sportswriter put it.

Alex Cora has confirmed newspaper report he will not make the trip to meet the president. So basically it’s the white Sox who’ll be going.

— Steve Buckley (@BuckinBoston) May 5, 2019

Many fans cringed at the optics and the message, tweeting “shame on you all” and calling out the players who went for not staying back in solidarity with their teammates.

Good for him! And shame on his disgusting teammates. Much love for JBJ and every @RedSox player who stands in solidarity with him and stays home

— Annina García 🌻 (@agcia87) May 9, 2019

The players who did attend beamed beside the President, as he praised their winning season. Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale called it, “a very high honor … that we appreciate.”

Outfielder J. D. Martinez of Cuban descent was the only person of color to attend. He thanked the president for his hospitality and for “a once in a lifetime opportunity to be honored … at the White House.”

The team has been trying to downplay any tensions in the clubhouse, and many players have declined to discuss their decisions. But former player David Ortiz was less circumspect, telling WEEI sports radio, he would have definitely skipped the event that compared to, “shak[ing] hands with the enemy.”

“I’m an immigrant,” said Ortiz, who became as U.S. citizen after arriving from the Dominican Republic. “You don’t want to go and shake hands with a guy who is treating immigrants like [expletive].”

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Experimental Drug For Huntington’s Disease Jams Malfunctioning Gene

An MRI scan shows signs of atrophy in the brain of a patient with Huntington’s disease.

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Scientists are gearing up a major study to find out whether a drug can silence the gene that causes a devastating illness called Huntington’s disease.

This development follows the discovery that the experimental drug reduced levels of the damaged protein that causes this mind-robbing ailment. The new study will determine whether that drug can also stop progression of the disease.

It is also another sign that drugs built with DNA, or its cellular collaborator RNA, can be powerful tools for tempering diseases that until now have seemed out of reach.

Huntington’s disease is an apt target because it’s caused by a single mutated gene. It also a frightening and devastating disease.

The symptoms “are like having Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and ALS [Lou Gehrig’s disease] simultaneously, when it’s in full swing,” says Jeanette Garcia, a 57-year-old advocate in San Jose, Calif.

If one of your parents has Huntington’s disease, there’s a 50-50 chance you will get it, too. About 30,000 people in the United States carry the deadly gene.

Garcia and her nine siblings lost their mother to the disease. They know the terrible odds. When they get together for family reunions and talk turns to Huntington’s, “it is all of a sudden this terrifying prospect we’re all faced with,” she says.

Jeanette Garcia discovered through genetic testing that she is going to develop Huntington’s disease, eventually.

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Courtesy of Jeanette Garcia

Garcia decided to take the genetic test for this condition in 2008 and found out she had inherited the damaged gene. She’s recently been seeing the first signs of the illness, including involuntary movements, which she noticed when watching a video of herself, “and I went, ‘Holy crap, OK here we go.’ “

But her disease is emerging at what could be a fortunate moment. She’s heading off to a neurologist to see if she would qualify for a study that is generating a lot of excitement.

Last year, drugmaker Roche’s Genentech unit said that an experimental drug sharply reduced the amount of illness-inducing protein measured in people’s spinal fluid. The results of that study, involving 46 patients, were published Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine.

The protein isn’t eliminated entirely with the experimental drug, but animal experiments suggest that reducing it significantly could be enough to stave off symptoms.

The researchers are now about to launch a trial involving 660 volunteers with early symptoms of the disease, to see if the drug, called RG6042, can slow or stop Huntington’s progression.

“It’s so exciting,” Garcia says. “I want to be a part of it.”

This study marks a milestone for Huntington’s disease. More than 25 years ago, a scientist named Nancy Wexler was able to identify the errant gene that causes the disease by painstakingly studying families in a region of Venezuela where the disease is nearly epidemic.

Her finding was one of the early, great successes in tracking down disease genes. But it has taken all the intervening years to develop this promising angle of attack.

One huge advance has been the development of methods to silence a damaged gene, so cells don’t convert those errant instructions into dangerous proteins, such as the one that causes the symptoms of Huntington’s.

Scientists have developed several methods to jam this signal. The Roche drug uses a custom-built piece of genetic material called an antisense oligonucleotide to block the process. Other advanced research projects aimed at Huntington’s and other diseases use a technique called RNA interference to accomplish a similar result.

Another major challenge has been to figure out how to get the drug into the brain. Scientists at Ionis Pharmaceuticals in San Diego figured out how to make that happen with the antisense oligonucleotide targeting Huntington’s.

The answer turned out to be injecting it into spinal fluid, which circulates up and down the spine and into the brain. “The drug could actually transfer quite readily to the brain and then sink into the target brain tissue,” says Dr. Scott Schobel, who heads the research effort on this drug at Roche, which is co-developing the experimental drug with Ionis.

Roche started recruiting patients for this study in January, but halted the trial to redesign it, after discovering the drug didn’t need to be injected as often as they had planned.

“We’re going to get back up and running over the next several weeks to months,” Schobel says.

The study is supposed to follow patients for 25 months, which should be enough time to determine whether people’s symptoms are held in check by the treatment.

George Yohrling, a scientist at the Huntington’s Disease Society of America, says his main concern is whether the experimental drug will penetrate deeply enough into the brain to stop the disease.

If not, he says other treatments under development could succeed in that regard. One strategy is to use viruses to deliver one of these gene-silencing drugs.

“A lot of different approaches are being worked on in different stages of drug discovery across the world,” Yohrling says. “It’s really quite exciting.”

This development follows more than 20 years of boom-and-bust excitement about gene-silencing strategies.

“Initially there was wild enthusiasm,” says Dr. Judy Lieberman, a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. “There were literally hundreds of biotech companies formed to do that.”

But they quickly hit technical and scientific roadblocks, she says, “and eventually almost all of them about abandoned these efforts.”

As scientists gradually worked their way through these challenges, Huntington’s disease emerged as an appealing target, despite being a rare disease with a far smaller potential market than, for example, a drug for Alzheimer’s disease.

The first antisense oligonucleotide to be approved as a drug by the Food and Drug Administration treats an even rarer condition, called spinal muscular atrophy. And there are now competitive products targeting that disease, thanks in part to the financial incentives drug companies get to develop drugs for “orphan” diseases. (The drugs are also extraordinarily expensive).

Drug developers are also aware that this strategy could be useful for common disorders, such as high cholesterol. That’s an active area for drug development.

Drug companies would jump on an opportunity to develop a drug for Alzheimer’s or autism, Yohrling says, if only they could identify a straightforward target gene to disrupt. That strategy “now makes the ‘undruggable’ druggable,” he says.

But that’s getting ahead of the story. Before the FDA even considers approving a treatment for Huntington’s, Roche will have to demonstrate that its experimental drug is safe and effective.

Garcia is eager to help them make that case, by joining the study if she can, and encouraging others to do the same. She says she can’t even let herself hope that the treatment will work for her. She’s thinking of her four children and six grandchildren.

She has a grandson who was born blind and is also at risk for Huntington’s, she says. “I’m just not going to stop because I don’t want him to have to deal with this.”

You can contact NPR Science Correspondent Richard Harris at

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Facts Aren’t Enough: The Psychology Of False Beliefs

The myth that vaccines cause autism has persisted, even though the facts paint an entirely different story.

Renee Klahr

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Renee Klahr

In 2012, as a new mom, Maranda Dynda heard a story from her midwife that she couldn’t get out of her head. The midwife told her that years earlier, something bad had happened after she vaccinated her son. One minute he was fine, and the next, he was autistic. It was like “the light had left his eyes,” Maranda recalled her saying. The midwife implored Maranda to go online and do her own research. So she did.

She started on Google. It led her to Facebook groups, where other moms echoed what the midwife had said.

“And they were just practically bombarding me with information,” says Maranda. “Telling me, ‘Your midwife’s right. This is why I don’t vaccinate. This is what happened to my child who I did vaccinate versus my child who I didn’t vaccinate.’ Things like that.”

Maranda trusted them. She says it wasn’t long before she had decided she wasn’t going to vaccinate her child, either.

Eventually, she did more research and realized that the purported link between vaccines and autism wasn’t real. She changed her mind, and vaccinated her daughter. But looking back, she can’t believe how easy it was to embrace beliefs that were false.

“It is so, so easy to Google ‘What if this happens’ and find something that’s probably not true,” Maranda says. “Don’t do that.”

This week on Hidden Brain, we look at how we rely on people we trust to shape our beliefs, and why emotion can be more powerful than facts.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Parth Shah, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Thomas Lu and Laura Kwerel. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain.

Additional Resources:

The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others by Tali Sharot

The Misinformation Age: How False Beliefs Spread by Cailin O’Connor and James Owen Weatherall

Do as I Say, Not as I Do, or, Conformity in Scientific Networks by James Owen Weatherall and Cailin O’Connor

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‘The Hustle’ Doesn’t Flow

Rebel Wilson and Anne Hathaway star in The Hustle.

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Christian Black/MGM

Here’s the scam that Penny Rust, a small-time con artist played by Rebel Wilson, runs in the opening scene of The Hustle: A sleazy bro walks into a bar, expecting to meet a beautiful, buxom woman he has spent a month courting on a dating app. Instead, he’s greeted by Penny, who introduces herself as the woman’s sister and makes up some cockamamie story about how her sister is really flat-chested but needs only $500 to get the augmentation to become the stunner he expected. And she takes Venmo if it’s convenient to him.

It’s a terrible, graceless, impossible scheme, made plausible only by the idiocy of her mark, which would still have to be world-historic in order for her to pull it off. But more crucially, it’s the first sign that The Hustle will fail to seduce the most important mark in any heist movie: the audience. The screenwriters can layer one double-cross after another, but if there’s no sense of elegance, sophistication and fun in the way a con film toys with expectation and pulls out the rug, then the con is doomed. And the cons don’t get that much smoother or smarter here than the fake-boob gambit.

A year after being the best thing about Ocean’s 8, a gender-flipped variation on the Ocean’s Eleven, Anne Hathaway is back for a second gender-flipped remake of a remake, with greatly diminished returns. Part heist films, part buddy comedies, 1964’s Bedtime Story and its more widely regarded 1988 remake, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, turn on the collaboration between mismatched con artists — one a sophisticated Brit who targets the wealthy, the other a lowdown oaf who’s looking to up his game. The first paired David Niven and Marlon Brando, the latter in a rare (and bizarre) comic role, and the second had Michael Caine and Steve Martin step ably into those respective parts. Hathaway and Wilson, an Aussie of cheerful vulgarity, seem like a winning combination.

The star chemistry never materializes, sullied by nonsensical scams, overly aggressive and cartoonish direction, and two lead performances that don’t work together or apart. After that labored opening, there’s still the lingering promise of a fizzy little comedy in the French Riviera, where Hathaway’s Josephine Chesterfield makes an easy living separating ultrawealthy men from their money. When Penny follows her home, looking for a piece of the action, Josephine sees an opportunity to train her as a protégé and a partner for ever-more-lucrative scores. Once the two have successfully pulled off a few jobs together, they set their sights on a nerdy Mark Zuckerberg type (Alex Sharp) who has millions in dot-com dollars up for grabs.

The Hustle seizes on a theme, vocalized by Josephine, that justifies switching the gender roles from Bedtime Story and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, arguing that women make better con artists because men always believe they’re smarter. Her secret is simply to turn their perceived strength against them. Yet save for a nifty sleight of hand by Josephine at a casino, the thieving in The Hustle doesn’t bear out her hypothesis because it relies on rank stupidity rather than a battle of wits. One “Lord of the Rings” scam, involving Josephine securing an engagement ring and Penny scaring the men away as her deranged sister, works three times within what appears to be a week or a month. How does she get a rock that fast?

Hathaway is so reliably excellent in comic, dramatic and musical roles that her stilted performance as Josephine comes as a shock, especially considering she had just stolen Ocean’s 8 playing a deliciously haughty version of a Hollywood superstar. Here she works a British accent so unconvincing that Penny calls her out for its Julie Andrews quality and seems to hint that the film will reveal it as fake somewhere down the line. As for Wilson, she has always been inclined to go big and bawdy, but there’s no evidence of a deeper character beyond improvised naughtiness and frequent pratfalls. It’s fine that Hathaway and Wilson make an unlikely pair; it’s less fine they make such an awkward pair.

The secret of a great con movie is to make a complicated job look easy, pulling off a stylish syncopation of many moving parts. The Hustle does the opposite, botching an unsophisticated job and scrambling desperately to make it seem like a snap.

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Lila Downs Celebrates Mexico’s Culinary And Cultural Sides With ‘Al Chile’

Lila Downs celebrates the chile on her new album.

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At this point, Lila Downs now has the kind of artistic stature among her fans that she has for the women she has celebrated throughout her career. She has always paid tribute to great voices and artist such as Chavela Vargas, Mercedes Sosa and even Joan Baez. After almost two decades of celebrating Mexican and Latin American culture on her albums, Downs has become expert at exploring culture through rhythms, lyrics and dance.

Downs stopped by Alt.Latino to chat about her latest record, Al Chile. The album’s 11 tracks are both a sonic and culinary adventure into the deepest part of the collective Mexican psyche through the pepper. Just as different parts of Mexico reflect different indigenous cultures, the chile gets very different uses depending on where it is prepared.

Each song also reflects Mexican diversity in the way Downs and producer Camilo Lara have enlisted various traditional Mexican bandas for the musical backdrop. There is just as much history in these saxophone and clarinet-driven bands as there is in the food they celebrate on this album.

Once again, Lila Downs has convinced us to go along with her musical and cultural vision and, as always, we are all the more richer for it.

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