Perla Battalla is one of only a few women to know Leonard Cohen intimately and still resist his charms.
“Women are drawn to him,” said the Latin singer from her hotel room in Fort McLeod on Thursday.
“Women think he gets them, and he does.”
Battalla first met Cohen in 1988.
“To be honest, I wasn’t that familiar with him when I was asked to audition,” she said.
The Canadian poet was holding a week of auditions for backup singers in Los Angeles, California.
It was Battalla’s hometown, so she dropped by and gave it a shot.
“He was in the room and it was so natural,” she said.
“It was magical and so much fun, I didn’t want to leave the audition.”
By the time she made it home, she’d got the call.
Battalla toured Canada, the US and Europe with Cohen.
“It cemented our friendship,” she said.
“He is a wonderful, warm human being.”
And, somehow, Battalla resisted his charms.
It’s not that Cohen is “a playboy,” she said.
“Women are basically really smart. And women like a man who’s a gentleman and smart and very funny — so with these qualities that he possesses, women are just drawn to him.
“And a man that can write that kind of poetry …”
It was Cohen who encouraged Battalla to start a solo career.
She’d talk to him about wanting to write songs and go solo.
“Just do it, darling,” he told her.
“If it wasn’t for him, I don’t think I would have done it,” she said.
On her current Canadian tour, Battalla is singing Cohen songs with a personal touch.
The Latin American singer had several of his tunes translated in to Spanish.
Cohen always told Battalla everyone has their own story to tell — sing about what you know.
“And that’s why I sing in Spanish,” she said.
With a Mexican mariachi singer for a father and an Argentinean mom, Battalla grew up speaking Spanish in LA.
Her dad, when he wasn’t out performing under a wide-brimmed hat, ran a record store.
“I was always exposed to music,” she said.
Battalla started taking singing gigs straight out of high school and made some extra cash working as a photographer.
It’s rare to make a living in the arts, right off the start, she said.
Now that she is, Battalla questions her sanity.
“I ask myself, ‘Why would anyone choose to do this,’” she said.
“It’s tough, being on the road and away from your family.”
When she agreed to do a few shows in Canada, Battalla knew it would be cold.
But she wasn’t expecting the deep freeze she found in Alberta.
“I’ve mostly been here in the summer,” she said.
When friends heard she was heading to Alberta and the Yukon, they said, “You’re going where? In the winter?”
But Battalla is hardy.
“I’m glad I’m doing this,” she said.
“Canadians are so kind.”
Despite the hardships of life on the road, Battalla can’t stop singing.
“You don’t choose to do this,” she said.
“It chooses you.”
For Battalla, singing is a spiritual experience.
“When I sing a song, it reaches so deep into a well that there’s nothing else that I do, other than look at my daughter, that reaches that part of me that is so deep.
“It gives me that sense of groundedness.”
Although she writes her own stuff, Battalla loves singing Cohen’s songs.
“As a musician, singing the perfect song is always a treat,” she said.
“And because of my personal connection to Leonard, it’s an expression of love and gratitude for what he’s done for me.”
There are more and more Cohen songs that Battalla keeps discovering.
“I may have to make a Volume 2,” she said, citing her existing tribute CD.
Battalla is playing at the Yukon Arts Centre on Sunday, February 3rd, at 8 p.m.
And she’s looking forward to the theatre’s grand piano.
“I’m excited about the Steinway,” she said.
Battalla is touring with a pianist, a bass player and a guitar player who also sings.
Tickets are $25 for adults, $15 for children and seniors. There are also Artrush teen passes available for $5.