Gaby Moreno’s “home away from home” is a small theater in West Los Angeles called Largo at the Coronet. She was a guest singer and performed her own show at this historic nightclub for over 20 years.
“It became like this place where I would go just for inspiration,” says Moreno. “And my God, I was so inspired! I really believe that something changed in me, how I wanted to express myself musically.
Moreno arrived in Los Angeles in 2001 and freed her first album in 2008. Seven albums later, Moreno has found his voice singing various Latin American musical genres and a wide range of American music, including R&B, soul, pop, rock, country, old age and more . Moreno is as comfortable writing and singing songs in Spanish as in English.
But before releasing her first album, she didn’t write songs in Spanish. “I think it’s because when I was very young, around 13, and I took this trip with my family to New York, I first discovered blues and jazz. And I remember that I was obsessed with this music,” she says.
During this trip, she bought a lot of CDs and brought them back to Guatemala. Moreno says she would lock herself in her room and listen to Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton, Ella Fitzgerald and Nina Simone.
“I just remember thinking there was no way I was writing in Spanish, I just didn’t think it would sound authentic singing that style of music in Spanish, because that’s what I wanted to do, I want to do blues, I want to do jazz.
Everything changed when she started playing Largo.
His friend, bassist David Piltch, was doing a weekly residency at the club and invited Moreno to join him with any song she wanted to sing. “And I remember him saying to me, ‘Hey, why don’t you bring a bolero? And I was like, ‘a bolero?’ “, she says. “I mean, really, at that time, I knew all these boleros just growing up in Guatemala and my parents played a lot, but I didn’t know how to play, I don’t think I would ever sing a bolero .
Moreno went home and started listening to boleros. Then she met the one called Quiz, Quiz, Quiz. “And that’s when I started playing this song Quizas, it was here in Largo,” she says. “And I remember people coming up to me after shows and saying ‘this kind of music, songs in Spanish, you should do’.”
“Gaby immersed herself in all that American music,” says fAn Jackson Browne. “One of the times I saw her at Largo, she was playing electric guitar and playing this really rock, really punk, very punk stuff, you know. She gets it, she really gets to the essence of a lot of musical styles different.
During one of the shows at Largo, she met the famous composer and arranger Van Dyke Parkswhose work includes songwriting for The Beach Boys and collaborations with Randy Newman, Little Feat and Ry Cooder.
Moreno says they talked for hours. “He said to me, ‘this is the music I grew up listening to, I was doing concerts with my brother in the 60s, singing corridos, rancheras and boleros, and I love it so much this music, we gotta do something together!'” In 2019, Moreno and Parks released the album titled ¡Spangled!. He was nominated for a Latin Grammy the following year.
Moreno says that although she has been perfecting her craft for decades, something brings her back to her roots. And that influenced his last album Alegoria. She says she can hear how far she has come, not only as a songwriter but also as a singer.
“I feel much more connected with the songs that I write and with my experience, especially my experience as an immigrant, here in the United States,” she says. “Even after all these years, because I have been here for a long time, more than 20 years, I still feel that my home is Guatemala. My whole family is there.
In the song “Til Waking Light”, Moreno sings in English and Spanish from the perspective of an immigrant making the treacherous journey from Central America to the United States.
“And I personally know people who have been on this crazy, crazy journey,” she says. “It was really that, I was just kinda trying to think about what was going on in their head. Like how desperate must they be to love and leave everything they know and risk their lives just to come to a place where they will have more opportunities and be in a safer environment.
Over the years, Moreno has shared the stage with a wide range of artists, from Tracy Chapman to Calexico to Punch Brothers. She toured the world with British actor-singer Hugh Laurie as part of The Copper Bottom Band. In 2009, she co-wrote the theme song for the TV show “Parks and Recreation”. In 2020, she was named first UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in Guatemala.
Guitarist, pianist producer David Garza met Moreno 18 years ago. “For a creator, a songwriter of his stature, to be blessed with a voice like that is an incredible package that is a gift to anyone who comes across it,” he says. “You don’t usually get that kind of voice and writing talent.”
This month, Moreno will embark on a major tour of Europe. She will do 28 shows in six weeks, covering 11 countries, including Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and Ireland. One thing is certain, Gaby Moreno will always return to her favorite venue, Largo The Coronet.