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Learning about culture through song

Stina Sieg
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Courtesy photo
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CARBONDALE, Colorado ” Listening to live music is like drinking vitamins. It hits you right away, and it nourishes you.

That’s just how singer Perla Batalla put it. She was talking from her home in Ojai, Calif., and her voice was just as full of laughter as dedication. More than mentioning specific songs or CDs or her musical accomplishments, she was honing right into the magic of her medium.

Oh, she’s into it.



“Invariably, people do walk away with hope and the sense of what to do in life,” she said. “A beautifully written song can do that.”

She would know, too. She touched lightly on her career, which included a decade as a backup singer for Leonard Cohen. She’s sung at the Kennedy Center. She’s organized and performed at a Cohen tribute concert. These days, she makes her living playing her blend of Spanish and English language songs across the country.



When asked when she started singing, she didn’t have an answer. As the child of Mexican and Argentinean immigrants, she grew up immersed in the melodies of Mexican culture. Decades later, the Spanish language still holds this lyrical, flowing quality to which she’s constantly drawn. It doesn’t matter where she is, she explained, when she hears it, she just wants to listen.

“It exists to be sung,” she said.

That’s what she hopes people feel tonight. Thanks to the Aspen Writers’ Foundation’s “Letras y Liricas” (letters and lyrics) weekend, the Chicana songstress will be bring her traditional and original tunes to Carbondale. This is one of many events that are part of the foundation’s Big Read, an annual campaign to promote area literacy. This time around, Rudolfo Anaya’s novel “Bless Me Ultima” is featured. Another large goal of this drive, it seems, is to help bridge the gap between Latino and other cultures in the valley. This feels to be about education, sharing, delighting in our differences.

Perhaps not so coincidentally, that’s what Batalla’s music is all about as well.

“I kind of feel it’s my duty to translate the songs for people,” she said, “to let them know what they mean to me.”

For her, they speak of Mexico. Its culture isn’t just about food, vivid colors, a strong sense of religion, she explained. It’s about these songs ” which all Mexicans know.

“It’s part of our life,” she said. “It’s very, very, important.”

She then went on, explaining that she sees America as a canvas, one rich with all the new colors and people who have arrived here. She feels we are truly a nation of immigrants, and the only thing stopping us from understanding one another is fear. That’s why nights such as this are so important.

“It’s one word. It’s always one word: Education,” she said. “You get that by getting to know these people, getting to know they’re just like everybody else.”

This is outreach, she stressed, and she does it whenever she can.

Like most of her performances, this one has no set play list yet, no finalized program. That’s just the kind of spontaneity Batalla lives by. She did sound sure about one thing, however. Like all good, live music, this will touch people.

And just how does that make her feel?

When asked that, she laughed, sounding surprised at a question so obvious.

“Oh, that’s why I do this,” she said. “Are you kidding?”

Contact Stina Sieg: 384-9111

ssieg@postindependent.com

Post Independent Glenwood Springs CO Colorado


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