Music has been singer Lila Downs' hiding place from the horror she feels at news of drug-war violence, a feeling of heartache she has transformed into a new disc, "Pecados y Milagros" (Sins and Miracles), which she offers her fellow Mexicans as a refuge.

"There was a time I just couldn't read the news, but now I can face up to it, I can fight better against what is happening thanks to my music - that is my refuge," she said in an interview with Efe.

To find that refuge she hangs onto humble sights of strength and decency like that of the women who grind maize, Downs said.

"There I find the strength to be able to sing to my audience about the beauty of Mexico, of how much that symbol that gives me strength teaches me, the making of a tortilla," she said.

The 43-year-old Downs was born in the southern state of Oaxaca to an Anglo-American father and a Mixtec Indian mother.

While not considering herself an ambassador of her culture, she does describe herself as a "translator" of some thoughts and some of the "grace and gentleness of our country that women in particular have," of the strength they have "to battle against some really terrible things."

Despite her well-known social activism on behalf of the rights of immigrants and Indians, she never thought of going into politics because the idea of power has never particularly attracted her.

Instead she uses music to transform society.