If it’s true that a singer’s voice can tell the story of their life, then it’s no wonder that Gigi De Lana’s vocals sound bigger than you think they should.
The petite 26-year-old Filipino singer is known for her ability to belt out songs with a ferocity and clarity that can be compared to greats such as Celine Dion and Whitney Houston. However, as she talked to Gulf News in an interview ahead of her concert in Abu Dhabi on March 18, she spoke softly and reflectively about her life and the struggle to realise her dreams.
De Lana, born Gidget Dela Llana, will perform in the UAE capital for the first time along with her band The Gigi Vibes — composed of Jon Cruz (musical director, keyboard), Jake Manalo (bass), Julius Traquena (guitar) and Romeo Marquez (drums) — at the National Theatre. It will be her first international solo concert, called Domination: The Middle East Tour, but her third time taking to the stage in the country. She previously performed at the 1MX Dubai festival in December 2021 and at Expo 2020 Dubai on March 12.
De Lana waxed poetic about what it’s like to get back on stage, especially after the pandemic, during which performers were forced to do streamed events.
“It’s so overwhelming to see the people again, and the happiness that I feel inside when I’m performing and when I’m looking at the audience ... It makes me feel love and I can see life,” she said. “It’s uncomparable to performing online ... because I can see your faces. I want to see your passion for music. I want to see your soul. Who are you? What do you love? It’s like when I’m singing live, when I look at people, it’s like I’m going through their minds. Like I’m telling them my story and them telling theirs.”
So, what is De Lana’s story?
De Lana was born in Olongapo City in 1995 and comes from a humble background. She has been actively trying to break into the music scene since she was a child.
“Actually, my singing career started when I was seven years old. I started competing in ‘Popstar Kids’ ... then I got into [singing competition] ‘Tawag ng Tanghalan’. I was a grand finalist there,” she said. “I [would] do weddings ... funerals too. And when I met my band, my growth started there. They made me a better person.”
The young star said it was her mother who discovered she could sing and who inspired her to pursue music. De Lana eventually started listening to great vocalists such as Celine Dion, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey and Filipino singer Regine Velasquez.
As one does as a teenager, De Lana branched out and even got interested in pop punk.
“When I was a teenager, maybe 14 or 15, I started listening to Hayley Williams [of the band Paramore]. Started listening to Avril Lavigne songs to Alanis Morissette songs, because I really, really love alternative. I love how they sing — it’s full of truth. That’s what [I want] with my music,” she added.
The Filipino starlet dipped into those influences for her concert at Expo 2020 Dubai on March 12, kicking off the one-hour set with rock track ‘Bring Me to Life’ by Evanescence and other hits including ‘I’m with You’ by Lavigne and ‘That’s What You Get’ from Paramore, apart from Filipino songs.
Even though she’s known for belting out ballads and romantic songs, De Lana said she often veers towards rock.
“I think it’s more of a pop rock, alternative style. More storytelling,” she said about her personal music style. “But I want to try different genres, because that’s who we are — me and my band.”
De Lana referenced her band often during this interview, and seemed to have a deep reverence for the people who’ve been by her side — especially since she said she almost didn’t make it this far.
Despite being in the industry for a few years, she only made waves in the Philippines in the summer of 2021 after her cover of the song ‘Bakit Nga Ba Mahal Kita’ went viral during her live-streamed YouTube web show ‘GG Vibes’, throwing her and her band into the limelight. It was after that that De Lana released her self-titled debut album and started travelling to perform at gigs.
“Five years ago I was really, really depressed,” she quietly admitted. “I didn’t think of pursuing my career anymore. I was rejected at auditions ... I tried to audition to other bands and they rejected me. They told me that she doesn’t have the ability to sing other songs and that hurt me a lot because they judged me.”
She added with a laugh: “[I was] too lazy. Five years ago I was too lazy to pursue my own career. I didn’t know where I’m going, I didn’t know what kind of music that I want.”
The singer said her dejection was compounded by her mum having stage four breast cancer, a battle that she is still fighting. It was De Lana’s band members that didn’t allow her to wallow in her sadness too much.
“[The band] told me never give up because this is your dreams, this is your passion, you don’t have to let that emotion pull you down ... and trust Him,” she said, pointing upwards. “And I did. That’s when we started composing. Actually my inspiration is my band.”
The starlet choked up as she elaborated on the people who’ve helped her along her journey; a reminder that despite all the fame and glamour, she’s a young woman who has faced a hefty share of hardship.
“My new management ... they made my life bloom. All of the people that I know now, they’re really, really good to me and they made all of this possible and they trust in me,” De Lana said through tears.
Talking about her YouTube success, which has seen her get millions of views on videos, De Lana said even that was hard-won.
“We started from scratch. We had nothing at all — we didn’t have good cameras, we didn’t have good internet. But we pushed on,” she said. “Because we wanted to have that consistency because the algorithm of Facebook and YouTube, it’s very hard. And even though we didn’t have good quality audio, our director Tritone — his real name is Erwin Lacsa — he made all of this possible with his passion. Actually, he’s the heart and soul of the band ... he made the band more mature not just in music but also in character. That is very important when you have a group you just have to understand each other. And that’s why we’re still here.”
De Lana might be the face of the group and its most identifiable member, but she credits her success to their teamwork.
“We fought [a lot]. But at that moment we realised that it doesn’t have to be one person — it has to be all of us. We have to decide equally,” she said.
As is the norm in Philippines, where performers often dabble in music, movies and more, De Lana has also taken on some acting roles. She starred in the 2020 movie ‘Four Sisters Before the Wedding’ and starred as the lead in series ‘Hello, Heart’.
Asked if she’s like to do more acting, she said: “Music is my passion. But I will take every opportunity, like acting, dancing, hosting, whatever. But I really, really love singing. I love acting also because when I started acting I really felt it’s different from singing. It’s more putting your emotions on that character, it’s becoming that character.”
De Lana is full of positivity about the future and isn’t afraid to dream big.
Asked where she sees herself in the next few years, she joked: “Maybe [I’ll be] a billionaire. [I’ll be] a rich Asian.”
“Yes, more tours, more music, more compositions and collaborations with great artists. I see myself still learning and meeting great people,” De Lana said. “And yeah, a billionaire. I claim it.”
Gigi De Lana on her dream acting role: “I want to be a villain like Harley Quinn ... Do you know ‘I Am Legend’? I want to do that kind of movie, with the dog and then I’m killing someone [laughs].”
Don’t miss it!
Gigi De Lana and her band The Gigi Vibes will perform at the National Theatre in Abu Dhabi on March 18 from 7-9pm. Doors open at 4pm. Tickets are available online and start from Dh80.