Perla Batalla makes hearts yearn with her soulful Spanish-language tunes.
Thursday, May 1, 2003
Even for those who don''t understand a word of Spanish, when the singer is Perla Batalla all one needs is a good set of ears, an open heart and a sense of humor. The singer/songwriter from southern California will appear May 7 at CSUMB''s World Theater, performing songs from her new CD Disco Batalla.
The CD, which is named after the bustling record shop her immigrant parents (dad from Mexico, mom from Argentina) ran when she was a child growing up in Venice, Calif., is a collection of original and Spanish-language classics similar to the music Batalla was nurtured on. "The focus of the album was to show appreciation for the culture that they brought to my life," Batalla says. "That''s where Spanish fits in; it was the first language I heard at home and it''s also one of the most beautiful languages to listen to."
Batalla has plenty of experience singing to non-Spanish speakers. While a student in Los Angeles she would regularly enter singing contests at country bars, and would perform in Spanish. "I would win a lot just because you can''t compete with a song that''s perfectly beautiful and no one really knows what you''re saying and it''s very romantic," she says. "It was a good way to make a living for a few years."
She got her big break in the early ''90s touring internationally as a backup singer for the likes of KD Lang, Iggy Pop and folk singer Leonard Cohen. Batalla would translate Cohen''s performances into Spanish when they traveled to Spanish-speaking countries. Cohen told Batalla he loved the way the language sounded. He compared Spanish to the sound of water and English to that of rocks, an analogy with which Batalla agrees. "Regardless of whether you know what someone is saying, Spanish is a beautiful musical language. It sounds like it''s flowing and it''s gorgeous. And English is very choppy," she says.
It was Cohen who encouraged Batalla to embark on her solo career with the well-received, self-titled Perla Batalla in 1993. Since then she''s also recorded Mestiza in 1999 and Heaven and Earth in 2000. Batalla''s earlier work led to her being called the "Chicana Joni Mitchell" by the Los Angeles Times, but she cringes at the comparison. "That is so ridiculous," she protests. "Joni is a genius. I am not Joni Mitchell. I''m just me."
While Batalla won''t compare herself to Mitchell, she understands why it''s done. "We have to find labels for everybody. It''s just how our brains work. We need labels on stuff so we don''t drink poison. But, when it comes to art I think we''re so lazy. I need to know what I''m getting here: What am I going to see? Am I going to like it? Well, if you don''t take a chance. how do you know you''re going to like it or not? You may as well just listen to Norah Jones because she''s relaxing. She''s no Joni Mitchell. She doesn''t write her own songs. There''s nothing really profound about it. It''s sweet and it''s comforting. And that''s got its place, but there are things that you will listen to that will change your life."
A feature of any Batalla concert is her funny between-song patter about her life, especially the importance of being a mom. The humor gene is well developed in the Batalla household--her husband and percussionist, Claude Mann, plays the chef on TBS'' quirky Dinner and a Movie television show.
"I just show up and I start talking about whatever''s on my mind," says Batalla. "It''s not stuff I wrote. I''ve done radio interviews with my daughter when she was a baby and walked in the room and she said ''Mom, you need to change my diaper.'' And I''m on live radio."
As for her show banter this Wednesday, Batalla will only promise that she''s going to be "whoever I am that particular day."
Perla Batalla performs May 7 at CSUMB''s World Theater at 7:30pm. Call 582-4580 for tickets.