Deep bass tones set the mood for the humming of a soft, melodic voice. A bit of blues-infused heartache shot through with the trill of Latin pop, the richness of soul music, and a hint of rebellious folk.
These are the kinds of musical moments, urgent yet graceful, that flow from Guatemalan singer-songwriter Gaby Moreno.
"I can't really call myself a 'blues artist' or a 'soul artist' in the traditional sense of the word," says Moreno. "I take elements from all those styles and blend them all together and make it my own."
At last year's Latin Grammy Awards, the then-31-year-old singer was presented with the Best New Artist award.
"It was a wonderful recognition," she says. "I wasn't expecting it at all, and it was just a shock and a great joy at the same time."
Above all, she adds, winning a golden gramophone has served as motivation and encouragement, and it's made her work harder. "It kind of tells you that you're doing things right."
This week, Moreno will arrive in the Magic City to perform as part of Festival Miami, presented by the University of Miami. And she is especially enthused about being able to bring some brass to UM's Gusman Concert Hall.
"I will get to have a horn section playing with me, which I don't usually," she says, "so I'm super excited about that." Also joining her is old friend and producer Dan Warner on the guitar.
Audience members, Moreno says, can expect to hear songs off all of her albums, from 2008's Still the Unknown to 2011's Illustrated Songs, 2012's Postales, and even her forthcoming Christmas collection, Posada.
When it's released next month, the holiday record will mark Moreno's fourth full-length effort. However, she won't be taking a New Year's vacation. This prolific songstress is already planning to jump into her next project.
"Yes, in the midst of all this craziness," she says with a soft laugh, "I'm planning to go into the studio.
"I only need one week, that's all I need," she insists. "Some artists take months and months and maybe years to do a record, but I just go in the studio and reserve like five to six days, and then -- boom -- record it. That's the way I like working. It's the way I've done all my records."
Prior to her only all-Spanish album, Postales, Moreno's first two LPs contained a mix of both English and Spanish songs. For her fifth effort, she plans on returning to her old ways.
"I have all the songs pretty much done and I want it to be a bilingual record," Moreno says, "and not like Postales, which was completely in Spanish, because I don't want to alienate anybody."
She expects the recording process to be "very organic," just her and a carefully selected crew of accompanists.
"I'm just going to have my band and go into the studio and we're going to record everything all together, which is just the way I like it. It's what I love doing."
When it comes to her preference for singing in both English and Spanish, Moreno says it's something that comes natural to her. Spanish may be her first language, but after living in the United States for over 14 years, she communicates mostly in English. "I would say like 89 percent of the time," she points out.
"Even when I write, I give each song the same treatment in Spanish and English," Moreno says. "To be singing in both languages, it's just what feels authentic for me."
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Gaby Moreno. As part of Festival Miami. Thursday, November 6. Gusman Concert Hall, 1314 Miller Dr., Coral Gables. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $30 to $50 plus fees via festivalmiami.com. Call 305-284-2241 or visit miami.edu.
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