Carla Morrison Takes Over Hollywood Bowl, Talks Being an Indie Artist

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In the days leading up to Carla Morrison’s Hollywood Bowl show — the seventh stop of her “El Renacimiento” tour supporting her 2022 album — the concept of time had become a bit blurry. Morrison spent weeks finalizing the details for what would be her first show at the legendary venue after a five-year hiatus from her career in the music industry, and yet, in the moments leading up to the big day, she still felt it was light years away.

When Morrison finally did appear on the fabled stage on the evening of Aug. 12, she was surrounded by pastel flowers and stood out in rhinestoned, baby blue. She was introduced by an animated visual that depicted a spirit going through a “Renascimento” (Renaissance), inspired by the teachings of Dr. Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief and loss. Normally, Morrison’s setlist follows the order of said stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance — “but with the Bowl, I tried to redefine that story,” she tells Variety. “We put an emphasis on the resilience that comes after having gone through a crisis and being able to say ‘I’m still here.’ It’s a huge venue and the thought of playing there is something I couldn’t have even dreamed up. It’s reminded me why I make music, why I devote literally every second of my life to my craft.”

Carla Morrison performs at Hollywood Bowl on August 12, 2023 in Los Angeles, California.
Timothy Norris/LA Phil

Morrison welcomed an old friend, American-Venezuelan singer, songwriter and visual artist, Devendra Banhart, to open the show. A truly pastoral performer, Banhart set the tone for the rest of the evening and enlightened audiences with his hymns about love and life, all the while twirling around the Bowl in a navy blue dress.

Morrison’s set began with some of her early material — take “Azúcar Morena,” a fuzz-dosed pop track that soared with assistance from a small orchestra of strings — and later proved she was still doing things her way, sprinkling in somewhat left-of-center pop or rock chord progressions to these arrangements.

About 30 minutes into the hour-and-40-minute concert, she howled through an achingly absorbing cover of “Tragos Amargos,” originally recorded by legendary accordionist Ramón Ayala. She dedicated the Mexican classic to her father who passed away in 2020. The tragedy happened just as Morrison had packed up her life to move to Paris with her husband, and thus, spiraled the revolution of her relationship with music, which at the time, she says, felt like no longer had a place in her world.

“It just felt like there was so much new music — reggaeton was paving the way, which I loved but I just didn’t feel strong enough about my own music in a commercial sense. Now, being on tour and seeing everyone, I feel connected and reinvigorated,” she explains.

Under the indie, LA-based label Cosmica Artists (the Marías, Gaby Moreno), Morrison has long established herself as a pillar of the Latin alternative scene. Before making that acknowledgment, she offers a long list of appreciation notes to the people who support her creative freedom: her husband and touring partner, the woman who does her lighting, and a number of people who make up her team. With critically acclaimed albums, like her Grammy-nominated debut “Déjenme Llorar,” and “Amor Supremo,” Morrison’s strikingly raw lyricism and enduringly youthful vocals shine; her songs have been covered by artists whose range is across the map, with everyone from regional Mexican singer Regulo Caro, to Colombian reggaeton star Karol G turning to her for inspiration.

“This is all a huge testament to who I am and how hard we’ve worked as an independent team,” she says. “I’ve always led with my heart and with whatever feeling I’m living with because I’m a highly sensitive person… sometimes I feel guilty because I’m so sensitive. I can get inspired by a smile, by a gaze by anything and sometimes I’m almost embarrassed about how dramatic I can be. I romanticize everything but then again, some great songs have come out of that.”

In the second half of her show, Morrison paid tribute to her biggest influences, welcoming special guests like Café Tacvba’s Emmanuel “Meme” del Real, to the stage to sing the Mexican rock band’s sultry and timeless “Eres,” combining it with her own song, “Eres Tú.” The evening closed with cumbia beats provided by Kinky’s Ulises Lozano on accordion.

“The bigger, more beautiful message behind this show is coming from the perspective of my culture,” she explains. “For years, it’s felt like maybe these kinds of spaces aren’t for us and maybe you start to think you don’t deserve them. As a woman, first of all, and second as a Mexican woman, I do feel like it’s a good reminder that our dreams are a reach away.”

Morrison is settling into the 20-plus dates of her headlining tour that will wrap on Aug. 21 in Chicago. She’s already looking forward to the feelings of stillness that come post-tour and is pining to be alone with a piano again. “I have so many songs inside of me as we speak,” she says. “They’re just waiting to be written.”

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