Beating at the heart of singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno’s music is the immigrant experience.
She’s on a heroine’s journey, a story she’s lived since leaving Guatemala at 19 to seek out a life and career in Los Angeles.
“These are dark times. I feel worried and powerless. I wish I could do more,” said Moreno from her home. “Yet all I have is my music, my art. This is my platform. This is why I keep writing songs about it. I want to be a voice for all those people who have no voice.”
Moreno, whose musicality has earned colorful descriptions, including “a pop Madeleine Peyroux singing in Spanglish” by the L.A. Times and a “Guatemalan Edith Piaf” by The Telegraph in London — will bring her blues and jazz-influenced Latin folk rock trio to Ent Center for the Arts on Thursday. Jarabe Mexicano will open the show.
By age 10, Moreno had started writing songs about achieving goals by keeping a positive attitude and had opened for pop singer Ricky Martin after her father, an artist promoter, brought him to town.
But it was a family vacation to New York City when she was 13 that changed everything. She heard a female street busker singing the blues and fell in love. The soulful strains inspired her to learn guitar and sing in a different way.
“I don’t consider myself a blues artist in the traditional sense, but I’m definitely constantly inspired by it,” she said. “Just the feeling, the passion, the players. I have no idea why it happened, but I have a very strong connection with that music.”
After arriving in L.A., she found work immediately with a publishing company. In 2006, she won Song of the Year in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and two years later independently released her first album, “Still the Unknown.” Her career blossomed and includes writing credits on the theme song for NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” and a Latin Grammy Award for new artist in 2013.
Her last album, “Ilusión” was released in 2016, and her new record, “Spangled!,” a collaboration with famed musician and arranger Van Dyke Parks, is set to drop Oct. 4. It ties together the Americas, with Latin and U.S. musical selections all arranged for an orchestra and sung by Moreno in English, Spanish and Portuguese. One of her favorites off the album is a cover of Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Dickinson’s ‘80s song “Across the Borderline,” sung with Jackson Browne.
“I thought the message was so relevant,” Moreno said. “A lot look at it as a metaphor — the border’s the obstacle you put in yourself. But if you really pay close attention to the lyrics, it’s talking about the situation with immigrants coming to us looking for the American dream. Then they realize all those dreams get shattered. It’s a different reality. It’s a sad song.”
JENNIFER MULSON, THE GAZETTE, 636-0270, JEN.MULSON@GAZETTE.COM