Lhasa was born in Big Indian, New York, of a Mexican father and an American mother. Her first decade was spent criss-crossing the United States and Mexico in a converted school bus with her parents and three sisters where they were home-schooled by her mother. She started singing in a Greek cafe in San Francisco when she was thirteen. At age nineteen she moved to Montreal, Quebec and sang for five years in bars, where she developed the material that eventually became her first album, La Llorona, released in 1997. La Llorona, which mixes traditional South American songs with original songs, was strongly influenced by Mexican music, but also Eastern European gypsy music and alternative rock. The album was released by the Montreal independent record label Audiogram and brought her much success, including the Quebec Félix Award for "Artiste québécois — musique du monde" in 1997 and a Canadian Juno Award for Best Global Artist, in 1998.