For Lhasa who left this world January 1st 2010 / by Birdie Busch

"I'll put my foot
on the living road
and be carried from here
to the heart of the world"
-Lhasa De Sela 

Yesterday I found myself at the obituary page in Mojo magazine. People all die in different ways. Usually there’s a heart attack,  a middle age man who was young enough that it seems only slightly surprising. There’s also maybe a drug problem that takes someone. I looked to the right side of the page and there I saw a name of a female artist I had seen 3 years ago at a small club in Philly named Lhasa.


I said this out loud. I was kind of confused to imagine this girl not alive when it felt like I had just seen
her perform vivaciously, tenaciously, and possessed with a lifeblood. If there was anyone who wasn’t dying it was her and her performance made her seem to the audience as if she were a phoenix infinitely overcoming any borders, both physically and mentally.

Lhasa, born in America to a Mexican father and Lebanese-Jewish-American mother, mixed traditional Latin American songs with originals, and was strongly influenced by both Mexican and Klesmer music, as well as Eastern European Gypsy music, Middle Eastern Music, and alternative rock. She would sing in all these different languages, giving the same strength and care to all of them. She encapsulated the emotive qualities of Opera and traditional Latin torch singing through the eyes and heart of a fearless seeker, and sung the songs like they were manifestos she wrote up while crossing the desert and floods of humanity.

Lhasa de Sela died in her thirties of breast cancer. About a year and a half after that show she was diagnosed and lived for 21 months more. I kept waking up in the middle of the night remembering her and also remembering this cardboard box of sparklers that I have tucked away in my bottom dresser drawer from somewhere I can’t even remember. These two things kept bouncing around in my hazy half-asleep head. Again and again these two things over and over. I’ve forgotten on nights like Fourth of July and New Year’s Eve to bring them out and use them, even forgetting they were there entirely, but I know now what I’m going to do. I’m going to take one out and light it and with that nervous awareness that comes with knowing they burn fast shake it around like crazy before it cuts out. For Lhasa. We never knew each other personally but I miss her dearly in this world.