Mother of Perla
Perla Batalla shares the talent that toured with Leonard Cohen at CSUMB.
Thursday, May 6, 2010
Perla Batalla’s voice soars, combining spirituality with soul. So it’s not hard to understand how Batalla – making her third appearance at CSUMB’s World Theater on Saturday, May 8 – landed a gig singing backup vocals for the legendary folkster Leonard Cohen.
After more than 10 years touring with Cohen, Batalla asked him if he thought she should take a stab at a solo career.
“[Cohen] is very Zen in his approach to life and always gung-ho about anything I suggest,” she says.
With Cohen’s unconditional encouragement, the singer released her self-titled debut in 1994. Several albums followed, along with a Grammy nod and a warm reception from the press. The Los Angeles Times wrote: “Batalla’s music caresses… [she’s] a born storyteller with a rambunctious sense of humor.”
From an early age, music had been embedded into the singer. Batalla grew up around her parents’ L.A. record store.
“There were speakers playing all the time, everything from salsa to mariachi to the popular romantic singers of Mexico,” she says. “It was one of the last mom and pop record stores in the area.”
On Discoteca Batalla – a compilation of original tunes and classics like José Fernández’s “Guantanamera” – Batalla pays tribute to her parents’ shop and her heritage.
“In our culture we sing,” she says. “At baptisms and weddings, people sing and everyone knows the songs; it’s a shared experience.”
Batalla describes recording her fourth record, Bird on the Wire: The Songs of Leonard Cohen, as a magical experience.
“Leonard was so supportive of the whole project and visited us at the studio; it was this incredible thing that just came together,” she says.
After touring with Cohen for so many years, making the tribute album was effortless. The project, which only took one weekend to finish, attracted an all-star roster of guest musicians including David Hidalgo of Los Lobos, Frank Zappa drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and renowned session guitarist, Greg Leisz.
Batalla’s mastery of Cohen’s classic ballads is clear on a rendition of “Suzanne”: She breathes the legendary songwriter’s prose with magnetic eloquence.
“The sign of a great song is it means something different to every person; Leonard never explains what his songs are about,” Batalla says. “For me, ‘Suzanne’ is about being a mother – it’s very personal to me.”
Batalla’s most recent album is also personal: Gracias a la Vida, named after the song composed wby Chilean singer Violeta Parra and recorded after a month in Buenos Aires with her husband and daughter, meeting her mother’s side of the family for the first time.
“When I was young, my parents never had enough money to go to Argentina,” Batalla says.
Exploring a part of her heritage she had never encountered made for easy inspiration.
“There are so many great musicians [in Argentina] writing the folk music of the country,” Batalla says. “It’s amazing.”
So are the results.