A cross-cultural journey from her parents’

record store to the world stage

Singer, songwriter and indie label owner (not to mention wife and mother) Perla Batalla has pursued her passion for music for the better part of the past 25 years. She’s made her mark in the realms of Latin and world music, played some of the most prestigious venues and attracted a global following that transcends musical boundaries.

Born in Los Angeles to an Argentine mother and a Mexican father, she discovered her initial influences at her parents’ record store, Discoteca Batalla. “I wasn’t aware of how important Mexican music would be to me back then,” she says. “There’s a big match between music and the Spanish language. It has its own rhythm—it just all fits together.”

Batalla left home at 16 (“I was way beyond my years in maturity,” she says) and kick-started her singing career playing the jazz haunts and musical enclaves of Southern California. A friend helped get her an audition as one of Leonard Cohen’s backing vocalists, and she got the gig after a 20-minute tryout. Two weeks later, she found herself on tour with a legend. “I was spoiled right out of the gate,” she says. “My first world tour was like touring with the king. He bent over backwards to treat everybody well. He was extremely kind and loving and caring.”

Batalla ended up doing two extended treks with Cohen, in 1988 and 1993. (In 2005 she released an album of Cohen songs, Bird on the Wire.) She attracted the attention of record executive Jac Holzman, who brought her to his Warner/Discovery label in 1994. She released one self-titled album for the company, but when Holzman retired a short time later she opted to leave the label and go the independent route.

She launched her Mechuda Music label with 1998’s Mestiza. “That move fit my personality way better,” she says. “I was signed to Warner by Jac Holzman, who basically said, ‘Do what you want. I love what you’re doing.’ But when he retired, leaving seemed a natural progression. They tried putting me together with other people. I just said, ‘If I can’t have Jac Holzman, I don’t want to be on a record label.’ I’m not going to trash the label and say they didn’t do anything, and that I hate record companies. After all, they put the record out. I feel really lucky that happened and that they put my name out there. But when I suggested that we try to get it on NPR, or do something a little more grassroots to get the music out to the people, they would have none of that.”

Batalla credits her inner circle for helping her find her footing as an independent act, particularly husband Claud Mann. The chef, author and television personality is her partner of nearly 20 years and the father of her 15-year-old daughter, Eva. “It helps having the support of people around you,” she says. “Like having an agent that gets me great gigs, because I make my money from touring. If I didn’t have that, it would be much more difficult. Nobody sells records anymore.”

She admits that running a label while remaining a creative artist can be challenging. “This is a crazy job,” says Batalla, whose latest album is Gracias a la Vida. “I’ve had to be both an artist and a businessperson, and I don’t recommend that. Unless you’re actually out there working to bring the money in to support the business, it can be really difficult.”

–Lee Zimmerman

June 2010 Issue of M Music & Musicians

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