Our sentiments towards Gaby Moreno are the same as our feelings towards Carla Morrison. Each in their own way are the epitome of modern female musicianship: risk takers, overwhelmingly talented, musically captivating and quite possibly some of the most down to earth artists we’ve come across.
That’s why it came at no surprise when a few months ago we heard that Moreno was asked to join one of the most successful Latin American artists of all time on tour: Ricardo Arjona. In support for his album Independiente, the Guatemalan singer/songwriter asked his fellow “chapin” to join him on his Metamorfosis World Tour, which is the singer’s first world tour without the support from his former label Warner Music.
Although she had previously played with Tracy Chapman and Ani DiFranco, touring with Arjona would introduce Moreno to a broader audience in Latin America, a market she has not tapped into with her previous albums Still the Unknown (2009) and Illustrated Songs (2011).
With the tour underway and currently in Colombia, the young musician prepares for the release of a new album: Postales, which will be released this September under Arjona’s Metamorfosis label. It will also be her first all Spanish album that- when combined with the tour, will surely seduce Latin audiences with Moreno’s throwback approach to record making and her nostalgic, bluesy vocals.
Are you touring to places you have never been to before?
Absolutely! Aside from a few concerts I did in my native Guatemala, it’s the first time I tour Latin America. So far I visited Chile and Argentina, and that was very exciting. I’m also looking forward to my first show in Mexico on August 15th and hopefully more “first show evers” on the rest of the tour.
How has touring with Ricardo Arjona shaped you as a musician?
It’s the biggest production I have ever been a part of; almost like a Broadway show.
There are massive crowds, big stages, and large crews of musicians and techs.
With him, it’s been a whole new experience for me.
Now that you’re on the last leg of the Metamorfosis World Tour, have you adapted along the way?
I was vey nervous during the first shows, Madison Square Garden being one of them. But I quickly got comfortable with that big of an audience. I keep reminding myself that I am singing for just “one” crowd. So it doesn’t matter if it’s 20 or 20,000 people in the audience. But honestly, I still enjoy the intimacy of a small venue more.
What is the best advice he has given you?
With Ricardo I have talked a lot about the importance of defending your music at any cost. This is something that we both strongly believe in but the way he reassures it to me motivates me to stay even more focused on that path.
Did he offer any advice on working with labels, now that he is independent?
We both know how big corporations and labels will try to mold you into something you don’t represent. In the end for me, it’s about keeping your essence intact. He agrees.
Immigration seems to be on a lot of minds these days. How has moving from Guatemala to the US shaped you as a musician?
It all started when I was 13-years-old and on a family vacation trip to New York City where I heard blues music for the first time. It captivated me. For the rest of my teenage years and high school in Guatemala, all I could think was “how can I go back to that place so I can absorb that kind of music even more?”
And then came your ticket in…
Yes. When I was 18, Warner Bros. in the US signed me and that literally bought my ticket to a music career in Los Angeles. Had I not made that move, I would still be in Guatemala happily living with my family, but I would not have the musical range and knowledge I acquired by moving around town meeting different songwriters, producers and musicians.
There are many musicians, and people in general, who wish they had a ticket similar to that now.
I came here legally as a student, but that doesn’t make me any different from other people who come here with a wish to have a better life. Immigration is an issue that has been in the back of my mind for quite some time and I try to follow up on the news of it as much as possible.
Do anti-immigrant initiatives, such as those in Arizona, affect you personally?
It affects all of us who are from Latin America. How can police officers stop you to ask for your documents just based on the color of your skin or the language you speak? That is outrageous to me. Immigrants founded this country. Remember Ellis Island? People seem to forget that.
Some may say that musicians should stay out of politics. What’s your take on that?
I think the beauty of music- and any other art form for that matter, is that it’s all about freedom of expression. I applaud those who express their political and social views because our souls need this kind of feeding. Thank God for songs like “I Shall Be Released” from Bob Dylan, “Solo Le Pido a Dios” from Leon Gieco and “Get up, Stand up” by Bob Marley and Peter Tosh.
Does your new album follow that type of social advocacy?
You could say traveling mainly inspires it, hence the album title “Postales”. Most of the songs I wrote last year while I was touring in the US.
Do you follow the same jazzy style as in “Illustrated Songs”?
Yes. You will hear a lot of elements and influences of jazz, blues, folk, soul and even a “spaghetti western”. I could hear it in a Quentin Tarantino film! This record has a very vintage and nostalgic sound. I think it’s quite unique in that this sort of 50s and 60s retro sound hasn’t been done a lot in Spanish.
And it’s your first Spanish album, correct, with distribution in Latin America as well?
It is, but it’s not such a big departure from my last album. The production is quite big and epic on a few of the songs. Strings and horns play an essential role on this record. It’s very vintage, playful, nostalgic, romantic, lush and cinematographic!
video uploaded by officialgabymoreno
The album’s first single, “Ave que emigra”, is that about you?
I believe so, like many out there who leave behind everything they know in search for better opportunities. I wrote this song a few years ago around the time when the Arizona immigration laws were initially made public. I already had the first verse written, which is autobiographical. When I read the news about Arizona, I wrote the chorus.
Why was this song selected as the album’s first single?
I’m virtually an unknown to most people in Latin America. All they know about me is that I sing a duet with Ricardo Arjona! So we felt it was the song that best introduced me to that audience because it tells my story in a way.
Even though the song was part your last album?
We thought it would be good to re-release it with “Postales” given that this time around I have a label and distribution supporting me. People in Latin America will finally get to have the song literally in their hands, should they choose the tangible option, of course.
Did you choose a Guatemalan director purposely for the music video of the single?
Well, in 2010 I worked with Carolina Paiz (from Guatemala) and Diego Velasco (from Venezuela) on a Venezuelan movie they produced and directed called “La Hora Cero”. I sang the Frank Quintero song “Canción para ti” that is in one of the scenes. I really loved their work and asked them to do the video of “Ave Que Emigra”.
It was interesting to see your memories painted on the video. Was that nostalgic for you?
It was. On one of the frames you see my grandfather who acted in one of the first movies ever made in Guatemala. Also, the hat that I’m wearing was my grandmother’s, who passed away last year. Carolina and Diego had the idea of having a little dog follow me all over the place. So I told them that I have a little dog, Peppy, who actually does follow me everywhere. She behaved so well and did everything on cue. Even I was surprised! Really, I think she steals the show.
What other elements of the video were personal to you?
The fact that we filmed in L.A. and in Griffith Park, which is one of the hills I love to walk when I have the time. There were other personal items on the video but you have to look closely. The record I put on is one of my favorites by Aretha Franklin. The book I pack inside my guitar is from a Guatemalan writer. The skirt I’m wearing is also Guatemalan. I wanted to keep it as personal as possible and close to my roots, but also showing this wonderful new place I arrived and ended up in, which is Los Angeles.