Gaby Moreno won a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist in 2013. A great honor, but a little late for a performer who's been wowing audiences since 1992. That's the year she opened for Puerto Rican singer Ricky Martin in Guatemala City.
"My dad was an artist promoter," Moreno says, "and he brought Ricky Martin to Guatemala." Moreno was just 10.
Moreno's new album, Ilusion, draws on her nearly quarter century of listening to, performing and writing music.
Courtesy Riogers & Cowan, publcists, by permission
The lead track, "Se Apago," faithfully recreates the sound of 1960s soul music.
Moreno translated "Se Apago" into English so she could sing a duet version of the tune with Nashville soul singer Jonny P. "He didn't speak Spanish," Moreno recalls. "So I thought, well, this is going to be interesting. I'm gonna try and translate this. And I asked him if he wanted to sing it with me and he said yes." Translated as "Love Is Gone," the duet has echoes of vintage Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell.
Moreno takes her genres seriously. "I discovered blues when I was 13 years old, when I came to New York with my family on vacation. So that led to me discovering all the other styles that come from the blues. I started listening to jazz, and to soul and to R&B."
After high school in Guatemala, Moreno moved to the US, where she has lived for nearly 16 years. In that time, she says, she has come to understand that life for Latin immigrants in the US has some built-in contradictions.
"We are stuck in between two worlds," she notes. "We keep our traditions. We're faithful to our roots from wherever we come from, but at the same time we're sort of straddling the fence, because we've adopted new customs from the American culture."
Moreno explores that tension with her song, "Fronteras."
"I wanted the song to talk about all those people that are here, that are doing things right, that are honest people. ... The word 'borders' (English for fronteras) actually came from [the idea of] not putting borders inside of you."
Gaby Moreno breaks down boundaries with her musical choices on Ilusion. With echoes of country and western, R&B, rock and rockabilly, she pays homage to the American music that inspired her to move to the United States.
"I came here with my dream of making music," she says. "I found in this country so many opportunities. And that is the experience of so many others who come here," she adds. "This," declares Moreno, "is where we belong."