On Thursday, May 5, Lisa Morales opened her arms to an intimate audience at the 04 Center to express with guitar and voice that love is no coward.
By Cy White, Photos by Cy White
Next on Stage…Lisa Morales
A single spotlight bathes the solitary microphone on the stage in a shaft of light. The crowd, only moments before, rowdy as only crowds can be between sets, stills. Absolute quiet. You could hear the drop of coin on the 04 Center auditorium’s carpeted floor. A woman, small in stature, stands there, guitar cradled in her arms like an old friend. The first strum feels like a shock to the system. The audience lets loose a collective breath they didn’t even realize they were holding.
Lisa Morales has started her set.
What follows is the most electric 40 minutes I’ve experienced all day. Anyone who’s ever seen Lisa Morales live knows fully well the power of her performances. At first, there’s a softness, a tenderness very much a product of who she is as a person, as an artist. However, as the show gets going, she really begins to tear away at the peace to give us some straight-up rock ‘n’ roll.
“I gotta tell my guys something,” she says after the second song. “I know this is a church, but you need to rock ’em.”
From that moment on, this intimate church stage turns into a stadium the likes of Woodstock and Glastonbury would be proud of. This small woman with her four-piece band delivers music that’s as hard-hitting as it is emotional. It’s a fantastical mixture of pop-soul and Tejano funk. A glorious amalgamation of all the musical influences Morales has absorbed into herself and the lessons she’s learned.
Women Should be Kinder to Each Other
About halfway through her set, Morales takes a moment to monologue to the audience. It’s a time to breathe and listen, to fully wrap ourselves in the love, honesty and raw energy of the woman before us. It’s a sentiment she expressed in her SXSW interview with me back in March. Starting from a young age, girls need to learn how to take care of each other, to care for each other.
Introducing “Magdalena,” a song from her latest EP, she tells the story of a girl she knew in school who would act out. How just as Mary Magdalene, “she must have had a tough time at home.”
She dedicates the song to the women and young girls considered troublemakers. Who were not taken care of or listened to. She follows the sentiment with a soaring vocal and guitar performance that’s as captivating as anything I’ve heard recently.
“I named it after Mary Magdalene,” she says in our chat before the show. “There was a girl in school that I always felt like was abused. She was a little bit wild, and you know, some people wouldn’t talk to her. I would always have to, because I thought something was wrong at home. But I didn’t talk to her about that. I just was nice to her. Just, ‘Hello, how are you doing’ and that kind of thing.”
“I think that a lot of things happen to women and to girls that it makes them behave differently than what we think [their]behavior should be. I was fortunate enough that for some reason I recognized that. When my daughter was starting third grade, girls started being mean. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s hormones.’ My daughter had these two girls that were fighting over being friends with her. They were fighting, and they put her in the middle of it. She came [to me]on Monday and said, ‘Mom, I just told them if they can’t be friends with each other, I don’t want to be friends with them.’ I thought, ‘Wow, how powerful, how wonderful and how strong.'”
Nurturing Each Other
“That’s what we have to teach our daughters,” she continues. “We have to teach them to be kinder to each other. From there and all the way through high school, women are not nice to each other. When it comes to a boy or a man, we have to watch out for each other. Warn each other when a guy is a jerk and doesn’t treat women right.”
Morales speaks passionately about her desire to rear a generation of girls who believe in themselves. “It’s our behavior with each other,” she says. “How we nurture each other in the right way. I wrote down in [my kids’]baby books that I wanted to make them confident. And I think that we have to think about all the things in our lives and how we treat other people. We have to be kind. We can’t just be about, ‘How can I get ahead,’ or ‘How can I put somebody out of the way to get what I want?’ It’s got to be, ‘How can we make a better community?'”
Amore no es Cobarde
Thus the reason we’re all here. Yes, to commune for an odd tradition often attributed to Mexican independence (which it is very much not). But more than that, this is a moment to really come together in fellowship and love. To mark the occasion, Morales has intentionally released her latest EP, Amor no es Cobarde–Love is not a coward–on Cinco de Mayo. “Love is no coward,” she says. “Love is not supposed to be a coward. You know, if you’re not going to love me completely, let me go so I can love and have that full, full thing. Either be present or don’t.
“I hope I touch people who are feeling that,” she continues. “Because I know what love looks like. I was married to a guy who was fantastic. Unfortunately, other circumstances happened and didn’t keep us together, but I know what love looks like. I know what it is to be really loved. So I have a great barometer. If that’s not what I’m going to get, I’m not going to stay. And if that’s what any woman is not getting, she shouldn’t stay. Or any guy, anybody, if that’s not what you’re getting, if you’re feeling constantly short of what should be there, you should move forward.”
In this spirit, she moves forward with the her set, and we’re all there with her. Joining in the openness, fearlessness and never-ending need for love. This EP, of course, is an extension to the mini-album she released earlier this year Rain in the Desert. The two will combine later this year for her next full-length album, She Ought To Be King.
My Guitar Gently
Love, of course, is the overwhelming message of the evening. Love of self, knowing when it’s time to let go of a situation that no longer serves your heart (as in track “You’re Losing Me To No One”). Of those closest to us, who keep our spirits healthy. The absolute and unshakeable love of liberation (“Freedom”). Of music. Absolutely music. “Fly With Me”/”I Want the Roses” is a resounding piece of magic that rocks the 04 Center auditorium.
Then…”While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” A raucous end to the evening that nearly brings the foundations down. It all starts with a classic mariachi/Tejano riff shared between Morales and guitarist Paul Ramirez. Then the lot of us are swept up in an emotional torrent. Voice and guitar dip into thoughtful melancholy before soaring once more. It’s a gallant ending that melds the crystalline timbre of Morales with the rolling thunder of powerful musicians who just want to rock.
The evening ends like this. A crowd of people on their feet, spirits lightened, excitement bouncing off the very walls. Lisa Morales and her band brought brilliance, energy, light. Love. They brought love to this space. “My band is just incredible,” she says, that same love coloring her tone. “Who knows what’ll happen as far as the show. You never know what’s going to happen.”
I can attest, the prevailing feeling was fearless, unbridled love.