Just when you thought you’ve seen it all, along comes Guia Rivera. Take one look at her when she takes the stage to perform and you would have thought that she was just another singer. But to those who know her, she’s no ordinary singer.
Guia is the first Asian American recording artist to obtain national airplay of her music on mainstream Latin music stations in the U.S. The Filipino songstress, who has songs in both English and Spanish, was born a U.S. military brat in San Fernando, Philippines and briefly lived in Athens, Greece before coming to the U.S. She got her first break in 2005 when she won the Chicago-wide Spanish singing contest called “Heineken Estrella,” which was sponsored by Heineken and Univision Radio. It was only a few months later that she took the chance and ran off to New York to live out her dreams as a singer.
Every night, Guia would sing at venues around the area, honing her singing skills. Her first big performance was headlining at San Francisco’s nightclub, Glas Kat in February 2006. When 2007came around, a lot of people wanted a piece of her. In February 2007, she was the opening act for Tony Touch. The following month she was introduced as a guest and interviewed by La Kalle 103.1 FM Chicago’s radio host David Miranda at the radio’s promotional event, where she also performed. Then in May, the radio station briefly played her single, “Camaleon,” which was also played on the Luis Jimenez Show in July and nationally syndicated by all La Kalle radio stations. Also during the month, she was interviewed twice by WRLR 98.3 FM’s radio hot, Tom Stahler. She also did two live performances at the radio station and had both her singles, “Snake Charmer” and “Lemon Light,” getting airplay.
Some other notable highlights in her career include opening up for Vida Guerra and Sean Kingston. She has worked with some well-known people, including Atlantic Records’ Silvio Tancredi and Grammy-nominated producer Soundtrakk along with celebrity photographers, Oscar Lopez of the Chicago Sun Times, Alberto Trevino of the RedEye (Tribune) and Paul Natkin. Guia is not only known as a singer, but she is also a songwriter, dancer, and a petite size model.
Currently, “Snake Charmer” is her latest single release.
See what Asiance uncovered about this upcoming singing sensation.
ASIANCE: What was it about singing that got you interested in doing it?
Guia: This first question is a great place to start. And actually I have a photo of when I was 2 years old wearing a diaper and holding a microphone, where I’m singing into it in the living room of my grandmother’s house in the Philippines. In life I believe we each are blessed with a purpose or multiple talents or gifts for which we can serve a greater purpose above ourselves. Yours is the expression of writing. Singing is natural, ethereal, primordial instinct for me. Many people are blessed with the talent to sing. But I believe it’s the singers who take risks and try things they’ve never tried before, who soar to new heights. It’s my hope and I pray one day that an Asian singer such as myself and other Asians will really make a splash on the U.S. music scene… because it’s about time!
ASIANCE: Having grown up in a military family and traveling around a lot, have the places you’ve lived in or been to influence your music today?
Guia: My sister was actually born in Greece. I left the Philippines when I was three and started elementary school in Athens at age 4. At a very early age, I learned about Greek mythology and the magic of storytelling. My favorite Greek goddess is Aphrodite, she embodies all the characteristics of love, freedom and beauty in a woman. Music is all about imagination and imagination running rampant could find no better place than in my profession. It’s okay to pretend and make believe in writing songs because we find ourselves transported to a new place and to a new time. Moving around as a military brat has definitely made me more open to world cultures and has made it easier to adapt to new languages or new customs and to make new friends. We have to as citizens of this world recognize the diversity of beliefs, ideas and interests that exist outside of our own, these that make life more colorful and everyday an exciting adventure. These experiences have not only influenced my music but have influenced my life and the people I am open to meeting.
ASIANCE: When people know that you’re not Spanish, but yet hear these Spanish songs of yours, how do they react?
Guia: I am Asian, but the other element to my heritage is that as a Filipina and through my grandmothers, my family has the blood of Spaniards who had conquered the Philippines for more than 300 years. Just as Mexico and the Philippines achieved their independence from Spain, our heritages were mixed inevitably with Spanish influences, from our food, culture, traditions and dance. And so when I talk to Mexicans and Puerto Ricans, they’re like, “Hey you Filipinos, don’t you have some Spanish words in your language and they’ll talk about things in both our cultures that we have in common. I’m really lucky I get the best of both worlds. I can relate to Asian people (Japanese, Korean, Thai) but at the same time my heritage allows me to find commonality with Mexicans, Puerto Ricans and other Hispanic cultures.
ASIANCE: Why did you decide to write and market Spanish songs, as opposed to writing and marketing English songs?
Guia: I do both – I sing and write songs in both English and Spanish. Sometimes the song just sounds better in Spanish so I’ll express my feelings or emotions in Spanish. And then sometimes I just want to write the song in English… .Even if you can’t completely master a language, it’s good to know a little here and there and to view all the different windows in which you can peek into another culture.
ASIANCE: You have such a great talent as a musician to write music in another language, especially one that isn’t your mother tongue. Was it hard to write songs in Spanish or did it come pretty natural to you?
Guia: My first song “Reencarnacion” was written out of pure love and inspiration. Sometimes you meet your soul mate and you may only meet him once in your lifetime. And I guess in that lifetime, maybe you spoke Spanish to him. Can you imagine ever feeling this way? I hope so because this is what songs are supposed to do to us. And then there came reggaeton. The first time I went to a club in Miami I said, “Man, reggaeton is hot.” I like to make music I can dance to. If you listen to “Camaleon,” it’s like saying “Girl Power!” without all the corniness because it has a banging reggaeton track in the background.
ASIANCE: Has it ever been hard to market yourself in the Spanish music industry?
Guia: Pure talent and showmanship overrides any obstacle. Most people have met me with awe in that I sing in Spanish pretty well and even more surprised when I wrote the lyrics to my own song in Spanish. I learned by singing along to Selena and attending Latino dances and parties. I feel with the Internet expanding knowledge to the world, people are become more open-minded and more curious to explore other cultures out there. It is certainly a better climate for opportunity for Asians and Asian Americans in the US. There was one time however in which I did run into ignorance that I’d like to share in order to send the message to singers out there so that they will bring out their Asian culture instead of trying hard to assimilate — rather we must be strong in our identity. I wore a red chipao when I attended the Billboard Latin Music Awards in 2005 when I first won the Heineken Estrella singing contest in April 2005. I wore red lipstick and slicked my hair back to highlight the black tresses with a shiny sleek do. One person named Frankie was totally turned off and told me I looked too Asian and this guy Frankie said I had to work on that. That is the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of! You should never change your image, or your culture or your values, to fit anyone’s standards. I am proud to be Asian — no matter what anybody says. And I will never ever change my appearance to look more Anglo or to fit whatever crazy mold in order to be “accepted.” For the most part, that is about the only prejudice I’ve run into.
ASIANCE: Can you talk a little bit about your latest single? And, when can we expect a debut album from you?
Guia: I’ll be releasing a double album for my debut one in English and one in Spanish — hold tight! I’m working on gathering more new music at the moment for your listening pleasure. A lot of fans as well as industry people have been asking me because they want more Guia Rivera tunes for their iPod. In this era in my life, we are in the period of “Snake Charmer,” as the current single release. I have a love-hate relationship with a b-boy in Las Vegas. I fell in love with him at age 19 in Champaign, Illinois and he said one day he would take me to his birthplace in Las Vegas, Nevada. I always imagined what it would be like in the desert and so I wrote “Nevada,” which is mixed with a little country feel to the pop ballad. He would write me of fantasies, like this one time when he wanted to hold me on the sand on the beach all night. In relating my love affair with him to “Snake Charmer,” I’d have to say this was really therapy for me in a sense that I was trying to figure out why I would ever love someone that would hurt me. For the most part, he’s always helped me and we’ve always shared secrets and I could relate to him like no other person in the world. But this incident really threw me off. I flew in to visit him on his birthday in Vegas when I was living in New York at the time, but his insecurities lied to him and he started acting weird. A couple hours before he dropped me off at the Greyhound station, he flipped through the phone book to look for a masseuse he could bring to the house. Then the “masseuse” finally came over dressed in a tight black non-masseuse like outfit. Then he locked the door to his bedroom with the “masseuse” and he thinks he’s getting back at me for whatever he thinks I did to him. So I knock on the door and yell, “Hey that’s not a masseuse – she’s a hooker!” He at least drove me to bus station. I told my cousins about the incident when I met them in LA and they were bewildered too. Then I get this weird message in which he is accusing me of a guy that wasn’t even a part of my life. Little did I know, in his mind he thought I had cheated on him or that I had some other boyfriend out there in New York — when I absolutely didn’t. Before I left on a bus to LA to visit my cousins, he was holding in this jealousy about some guy that wasn’t a part of my life — and when I ask him why he did it, he says he doesn’t know what drove him to call in the “masseuse” to hurt me. I forgave him. And I haven’t really shared this incident publicly. But I wrote “Snake Charmer” when I returned from Vegas to New York City, because I was trying to figure out why I still loved him after he pulled some crazy stuff on me. I am not in love with him anymore. “Snake Charmer” was born from this crazy incident. Sometimes love is not logical and sometimes we are blind to these illusions. It is hard to stop loving someone in a day. And sometimes it just takes a song like “Snake Charmer” to snap some sense into me.
ASIANCE: You are definitely an eclectic musician. Where do you draw your inspiration to write your music from?
Guia: Pain creates real art. “Graffiti” is an amalgamation of trains, graffiti and loneliness in New York City. Our environment can bring forth such beauty that as songwriters we try to capture in words. I think being an artist does involve some madness in temperament. My songs come straight from all the crazy out of this world experiences, a.k.a. the drama in my life.
ASIANCE: What are your ambitions as a musician? What do you hope to accomplish within the next few years?
Guia: My professional career (well you know it’s all good in that arena) I’m flying high and successful and the music industry is treating me well, I’ve got good friends and good family. But in my personal life I have struggled in my self esteem once I am drawn into a romantic relationship, as it has related to men who didn’t really value me for what I’m worth, taking me for granted because let it be known there are some men out there who treat women as doormats… . My ambition is to stand strong against a male-dominated world and to show other women that they don’t have to take that ISH either. I read Unveiled by Deborah Kanafani which she finds her independence and strength as a woman in a situation in which she is able to voice her views on peace and free expression in a land still marred by turmoil. I hope through my music I can also reach other women who are seeking strength.
ASIANCE: In your own words, how would you describe yourself as a musician? How would you describe your music?
Guia: Nothing is random, my music are like the jigsaw puzzles pieces to an autobiographical musical. I like to call my music eclectico because I enjoy finding exotic instruments and weaving them into the fabric of the composition and my songwriting style aural imagery. Because from what our ears hear in the lyrics and language, what you are then able to do as a writer is grant the senses to see, taste and smell in the minds. Much stronger than my ability as a musician is a drive within me to give you a dramatic, live show with all the energy and presence I can draw out of my spirit.
ASIANCE: What can we expect next from you, Guia?
Guia: We must remember, everything is God-willing. While you, Tanya, know of the record what is unraveling, I can give Asiance magazine readers a clue on the inside scoop… It begins with “Konnichiwa.”
For more information on Guia Rivera, please visit www.myspace.com/guiarivera.
You may contact Tanya at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo Credit: Alberto Trevino, Hair & Makeup Mario Tricoci, Wardrobe Helen Yi and Windsor