Singer-songwriter Lhasa dies at 37

Montreal, Quebec
Courtesy of CBC

Influential Montreal-based singer Lhasa de Sela has died of breast cancer. She was 37.

Lhasa de Sela won a Juno Award for Best Global Artist in 1998. (CBC) The Mexican-American singer-songwriter died in her home late Friday, after a 21-month battle with breast cancer.

Known professionally as Lhasa, she marked the world music scene with her dreamy and ethereal songs, written and recorded in Spanish, French and English.

Her first album, La Llorona (the crying woman, in Spanish) was released in 1997 to critical acclaim, earning Lhasa a Quebec Félix Award that same year and a Juno Award for Best Global Artist in 1998.

After touring for two years, Lhasa settled in the south of France to write songs for her second album, The Living Road, recorded in French, English and Spanish. The Times of London recently named her sophomore work as one of the 10 best world albums of the decade.

Her ultimate album, called Lhasa, a collection of English songs recorded live, was launched at Montreal's Corona Theatre last year. Lhasa cancelled her 2009 tour because of her illness.

'Riveting to watch'

CBC music producer Frank Opolko describes her songs as deep, reflective and playful. On stage, she captivated.

"She was absolutely riveting to watch," said Opolko, who worked with Lhasa in 2004 for a Routes Montreal production. "She has this ethereal quality that is very rare, this confidence and calm."

Born to an American mother and a Mexican father in Big Indian, upstate New York, Lhasa grew up on the road, travelling in a converted school bus with her nomadic family.

She eventually followed her sisters to Montreal, where she settled at 19.

She developed her music by playing the bar scene before she released La Llorona.

She is survived by her partner Ryan, her parents and stepmother, and nine brothers and sisters, 16 nieces and nephews, and her cat Isaan, according to her website.

"Her family and close friends were able to mourn peacefully during the last two days, and greatly appreciated this meaningful period of quiet intimacy," wrote David-Etienne Savoie, Lhasa's manager, in a statement on the website.

"Funeral and services will be held privately," Savoie said. "It has snowed more than 40 hours in Montreal since Lhasa's departure."