Music: Raw Sound

Music: Raw Sound

Gaby Moreno’s talent is no illusion

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Gaby Moreno says that she was motivated to continue with her work after winning the John Lennon Songwriting Contest in 2006. Photo by Jose Leon.

By Charlie Swanson

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Gaby Moreno’s earliest memories were on a stage. Growing up in Guatemala, she was encouraged by her parents at a young age to perform. “That’s something that’s been natural to me,” she says. “I feel very comfortable there.”

Today, Moreno is considered one of the premiere voices in Latin pop, singing with tremendous emotional power in both English and Spanish, and mixing together blues, jazz, indie folk and more for a dynamic sound that recently earned her a Grammy nomination.

Moreno will share her songs in an intimate setting when she performs with a trio on Monday, April 3, at Mill Valley’s Sweetwater Music Hall.

The kind of singer whose raw talent became apparent early, Moreno was 18 when Warner Bros. Records discovered her and gave her a deal. “What I wanted to do was surround myself with all kinds of producers, and songwriters,” she says of her decision to attend music school in Hollywood.

While Moreno was happily plugging away in the alternative pop scene, she began to think back on her roots more and more. “I started to embrace my Latin culture,” she says. ”I wanted to tell people where I come from.”

In 2006, Moreno says she started writing in Spanish for the first time. That year, she submitted her song “Escondidos” to the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, established by Yoko Ono in 1997, and won in the Latin category, as well as for Song of the Year. Last year, Moreno released Ilusión, an analog assembly of live takes in the studio, and her most acclaimed album yet. “There’s a very raw sound to this album, but the emotion is there,” she says.

Since becoming a bilingual songwriter, Moreno has seen her audiences grow. “People are affected by music no matter what language they’re being spoken to in,” she says.

Gaby Moreno, Monday, April 3, Sweetwater Music Hall, 19 Corte Madera Ave., Mill Valley; 8pm; $17-$22; 415/388-3850.

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