Gaby Moreno Continues to Make Music on Her Own Terms, and We Love Her For It
Genre-bending is something music artists have only in recent years had the freedom to explore. But Guatemalan singer and songwriter Gaby Moreno has always made music on her own terms — and she's been so effortless at it, you could hardly tell back in the day that she was even breaking the rules. The artist started dabbling in pop, rock, folk, jazz, and blues in both English and Spanish more than a decade ago, when most artists couldn't get away with it.
She's revisited all that in the various projects she's dropped just in the past year. Earlier this month she dropped "El Saber" — a Spanish-language track she wrote for Eugenio Derbez's recent film "Radical" — which was released on Nov. 3. At first, it may appear to be a great departure from the English bluesy and folk-like single she released on Sept. 14, titled "Solid Ground." But because Moreno has never limited herself to one sound, it's hard to argue that both tracks don't sound just like her.
Moreno has always put out songs that touch on life's greatest complexities while packaging them with beautifully breezy and free-flowing sounds. "Solid Ground" is a great display of that. It's a song that really tackles human vulnerability. In fact, the artist shares with us that she wrote the song during a time of "confusion, exhaustion, and a whole lot of frustration."
"[These are] all feelings I think a lot of us felt during and after the pandemic," Moreno tells POPSUGAR. "I wanted to purge all that out, and somehow it ended up materializing into this song."
The song opens with the lines: "So tired of this flowing / Never knowing where we're going, where we're bound." She's acknowledging the tendency we all have to feel desperate for a change.
"At the end of the day, we all want to seek some sense of stability and meaning in the midst of uncertainties and challenges," she explains. "I want to encourage listeners to not give up in the search for their own 'solid ground,' whatever that may be — even if you're faced with so much turmoil in your life."
The singer is known for proving that Latine culture is, in fact, American culture and that Spanish music is American music. And a decade later, she has never strayed from her roots. Her career took off in 2012 after she dropped her version of the famous bolero "Quizás, Quizás, Quizás." Her 2019 album, "¡Spangled!," with Van Dyke Parks, was nominated for the 21st Latin Grammy for best traditional pop vocal album.
Earlier this year, she paid homage to both her musical and Guatemalan roots in a duet with fellow Guatemalan Oscar Isaac, who's a good friend of Moreno's. The collaborative track, titled "Luna de Xelaju," is a rendition of a classic Guatemalan song originally written by composer Paco Pérez in the 1940s.
"It is considered a second anthem in Guatemala. You ask anybody in Guatemala, and they'll know the song. They'll know the lyrics, and they'll know how to sing it," Moreno says. "It's that type of song. It really identifies a lot of us in Guatemala."
The song holds a special space in the artist's heart; she shares that she's been listening to and singing the song since she was a teenager.
"It's really one of my all-time favorite songs, and even recently, I sing it at my concerts. Usually, it's the encore," she says. "I'll finish my concert and go out, and then when I come back and do a song by myself with my guitar, it's usually that song. People have come up to me and asked me if I had recorded it, and I was always like, 'No, actually, I haven't.' So it was kind of a natural decision that I made last year [to finally record it]."
When Moreno reached out to Isaac to record the song with her as a duet, not only did he say yes, but he also requested it be recorded live. Aside from appreciating Isaac's musical talents, part of why Moreno wanted to do the record with her dear friend was due to the lack of mainstream music that touches on Guatemalan identity.
"I think in music, we're underrepresented. There are so many incredible artists from Guatemala, but sadly, a lot of them just don't have the means to get out there and become a little more international," she says. "It's very hard, and I see it because my sister is an artist, a truly amazing artist, who lives in Guatemala. I was fortunate enough that I had the opportunity to leave my country when I was 18 and come to the States. I went to music school, and then I started getting these incredible opportunities, but I'm very much aware of that privilege — and really the luck — that I had."
It's been a busy year for Moreno. She also released "X Mi (Vol. 1)," an album consisting of some of her best tracks reworked with acoustic versions, like "Fronteras." It features songs the artist has written and released in previous albums.
"This is basically [something] I wanted to do for the longest time — an acoustic album. I've done many shows over the years where it's just me and my acoustic guitar. Everything that I've recorded had been with a live band and a fuller sound, and so I thought, well, I think now is the time to finally release this concept album," she says. "I think it's something that I've really needed to get out of my system. I'm in a period right now where I'm in a transition, without going into further detail, and it just felt right to put this out there."
But "X Mi (Vol. 1)" isn't the only EP Moreno was working on this year. She's been busy writing and recording new songs for her upcoming album, "Dusk, which is set to release on Feb. 16, 2024. This past Friday, Moreno dropped "Dance The Night Away," a track we can expect to hear on it. The artist shares that the album is a reflection of the transition and the depth she's recently been experiencing.
"There are themes of loneliness, disappointment, and heartbreak, but also the never-ending search for belonging, hope, and love," she says. "It's a journey through the ups and downs we all encounter moving about this roller coaster of a life."
Expect the new studio album to embody what Moreno has become known for over the years: poetically raw and real songs that remind us of the bittersweetness that is life.