Gaby Moreno sings only three and a half songs in English on her album Alegoría, but I’ve always concerned myself with quality over quantity. What I can understand is brilliant, with a songs capturing the bizarre daydream that the pandemic became, a yearning, apologetic love song, and an intelligent ode to conflict resolution.
Til Waking Light, the song performed half in both English and Spanish, discusses the importance of togetherness during times of uncertainty. As things get worse in the world outside, dreams and love serve as a beautiful place to hide. It’s a standout for its operatic intensity and the incredibly long note Moreno holds out at the end.
“I was trying to hold it as long as I could to get the message across,” Moreno said after I asked her if she knew how long she was able to sing on one breath. “It’s a note that I’m holding because I’m in pain, because I’m just devastated. I not thinking in terms of setting any records, it’s just what I felt in the moment”
On Lost On A Cloud, another track that draws hope out of a dark situation, Moreno directly addresses the pandemic. She employs Chris Thile for mandolin and harmony and uses high, dreamy sounds to capture the feeling of suddenly having nothing but free time. Instead of acknowledging the dread going on outside, Moreno urges her quarantine partner to recapture the freedom of youth and grants permission for them to enjoy themselves while they can’t go anywhere else.
“It’s definitely very surreal, especially when you know the whole world is at a standstill with you,” Moreno reminisced. “It was weird but I think it was also good for someone like me who had been in constant movement and always going on some tour. It felt nice to just be home and try out some new things that I hadn’t before. I think it kept me grounded and was some form of meditation to be in the kitchen cooking.”
Moreno found herself struggling to stay hopeful but found strength in trying to live one day at a time.
“If you tried thinking about the future, I think that made a lot of people insane,” she said. Moreno didn’t have much luck writing new songs, but she worked on producing and writing a score for a film. She also said her constant daydreaming was helpful.
The first track on the album, Nobody’s Wrong, is a plea for compromise and sanity when divisions arise, but Moreno says it strictly applies to some situations, mainly in personal relationships. The song, after all, stresses that ‘sometimes’ nobody’s wrong.
“It’s not to say that nobody’s wrong always,” Moreno clarified. “There are certain circumstances where both points of view are valid and you need to let it go. I’m definitely not talking about politics. There is definitely a lot of wrong there. But for other things, life is too short for fussing and fighting.”
It’s a key distinction that elevates the song from a typical modern era effort to bridge intractable gaps about whose existence is valid into a measured salve for the little things that seem big. Moreno’s attitude can best be explained by her living in another period of instability in her home country.
“Growing up in a country like Guatemala where there’s so much conflict, politically speaking, it’s something you just have to learn to live with,” she explained. “I basically grew up not being able to go out into the streets or use public transportation. This is something that really affects me- affected me. When I got here to LA, whenever there’s conflict, I just go into my little cocoon.”
Moreno has turned her childhood in Guatemala into something incredibly positive. She became a Goodwill Ambassador for UNICEF, literally the first for her country, in February 2020. She attended a ceremony there and visited some rural villages.
“I was really eager to do more things with them and get to work, and then lockdown happened,” Moreno said. But she still found an interesting way to help. “I recorded a song to talk about the importance of staying home and they distributed that video to really remote parts of Guatemala where they don’t even have internet.”
She also went on to record an education children’s album in Spanish to distribute to Guatemalans and to benefit their country. I’ve included a track that features Moreno’s niece on lead vocals in the video section below.
“Anything that I can do to give back to my country, I’m gonna go for it,” Moreno said. “I feel super honored that I was given this title of Goodwill Ambassador, but for me even more important is the actual work. Through me, through my platform, they can reach more people.”
It’s albums like this that make me wish I was better at learning languages. I’ve always been better at searching for the deeper meaning behind words in my native English than memorizing the literal meaning of words I can’t grasp the connotations of. Based on the English lyrics and Moreno’s translation of the end of Til Waking Light, it’s clear I’m missing out on a lot of that deep meaning I seek. Based on the melody and emotion behind the vocals, I’d have to recommend Soñar Otra Vez out of the songs in Spanish. I’m sure that since Moreno wrote it, there has to be something powerful there.
Above is the full episode as aired on WUSB’s Country Pocket, including both my interview with Moreno and the songs we discussed, starting with Lost On A Cloud, which really does sound like I’d imagine a cloud should. You can hear the show live every Monday at 11am on WUSB 90.1 FM or check the blog to watch it as a YouTube playlist. Visit http://www.WUSB.fm and https://www.gaby-moreno.com for more.