Gina René: Featured Musician

Gina René

Gina René – QR photo by Homer

Local Santa Cruz bids an affectionate farewell to R&B singer/songwriter Gina René, who relocated from Santa Cruz to L.A. in early May. As well as creating soulful, spirited original music, Gina has performed in the electronic soul group Soulstice with her brother Gabriel, sung backup for Michael Franti & Spearhead and appeared on The X Factor along with her brother Chris. Gina’s messages of upliftment and empowerment reflect her involvement with Agape International Spiritual Center, whose founder, Michael Bernard Beckwith, appears in the video for her song “Be the Change.”

Local Santa Cruz: Tell me about the record label you’re starting, Renegade Music.

Gina René: I’ve always wanted to put out other people’s music as well as my own. Everyone on the label would be coming from a certain place—not that all the songs or music would sound the same, but the intention would be the same: uplifting, intentional music. If you turn on the radio today to a number of different hip-hop or pop stations, the majority of what you’re going to hear is what I call low-vibration, or just negative. And everyone always says the same thing: “I like the beat.” Well, I’m sorry, but as an artist, I realize that I have a responsibility. If I have a microphone or I’m putting out a recording, I have a responsibility, because I’m actually saying something.

So the whole premise of my label, which is really more of a movement which I would like to say that I do my best to represent, is coming from a place of doing things differently. I call myself a renegade. People say, “What kind of music do you make?” and rather than giving them a genre, I answer, “I make Renegade music.” I’m redefining what I understand the word renegade to mean: It’s someone who’s consciously sharing what they know to uplift the awareness of others. As a woman, I feel it’s my job to share with other women, and young women especially, the things I’ve learned, or I’m still learning. So, without having to use the word conscious, which I feel gets used a lot, it’s more like a label for awakened or awakening artists. I don’t know how else to put it, man! [Laughs] The majority of things that I recognize in the media in general is a lot of negativity, complaining or gossip. You could actually put your energy toward sharing what you know with others, helping someone, speaking positively, using affirmative language. Everything has an effect, so what am I putting out there?

I think of the word renegade as being a little bit combative.

[Laughs] Like military, huh? Yeah, it’s interesting. I have a song called “Renegade,” and the idea was playing off the military: the idea of this unified, collective working towards something. Some of the positive things about an army are order, structure, discipline, responsibility and teamwork, right? And I was doing that because at the time, one of the wars in Iraq were happening, so I was like, “I want to play off of that, but we’re about peace.” It’s not about fighting; it’s about standing: What am I standing for? And actually, to be completely honest with you, the word first stood out to me when I read it in a book called Bringers of the Dawn. It said, “If you’re reading this now, you’re a renegade, because you’re here to bring light to the planet. You’re here to do something different than what the majority of people tend to do. And then my last name is René, so I thought, “Hey! I am a renegade, because my last name is René!”

Fill me in on what you’re doing with your music right now.

I’ve started a lot of different projects, and I’ve gotten clear on what I’m going to focus on right now. The live performance is called The Temple Show, but the album itself is going to be called Queen Reborn. My name, Regina, actually means queen if you break it down in Latin, and René actually means reborn. A lot of people feel that we’re in a time where the feminine, or another way of living, is reawakening, reemerging. Some of us may be experiencing that within our own selves and finding, “Maybe I’ve been used to being really reactive, and I need to practice being a little more balanced.”

As a woman, I’ve had challenges embracing my gifts and my own power. What I mean by power is my ability to generate something, whether it’s knowledge, music, from a place of my own knowing—not just what other people tell me, because I did live in L.A., and I shopped myself to labels with the help of people I worked with in the past and my older brother, Gabriel René. I have the experience of being in the industry and coming from the place where everyone was like, “Well, this is how you’re supposed to be.” It was all looking outside of myself. I’m not here to be the same as everyone else, and as a woman, I’m not about playing into ideas that I’m not okay the way that I am, you know what I mean? And so this whole Queen Reborn is more than just a project or an album; it kind of plays off an archetype—the idea that we all come into our own at some point, outside of the whole [idea of] becoming an adult. It’s more like a woman stepping into her truth, her power and her gifts. It’s ultimately a shout-out to women of the world in honoring this timely opportunity we have as creators and nurturers to lead a new way for the planet through standing our ground, speaking and sharing our truths and what we know with our creative energy and wisdom.

Musically, the project itself plays with the East and the West. It will be a world-infused mix of sounds that reflect my love of different musical cultures that have inspired me since I was young. I’ve always wanted to combine breakdancing and belly dancing. I’ve studied belly dancing a bit, and I’ve grown up with hip-hop and breakdancing. I’ve done a couple of shows where I would have live musicians and then a little bit of digital music going on, too. Rather than a band, it’s a live experience. It’s almost like theatrical sacred hip-hop. [Laughs]

Tell me about the experience of recording and touring with Michael Franti & Spearhead a few years ago.

They were really cool, because they were empowering me; they weren’t babying me. You can come on a new job, and you may be a professional, but I want guidance: “Okay, what would you like me to do? Okay, I’m going to sing these harmonies…” and they were like, “No, girl! Just feel it! I know your voice. I know what you can do.” They just threw me onstage, man! [Laughs] They didn’t send me anything ahead of time; they were like, “No, we trust you.” It was very nerve-wracking the first time! But I felt really appreciated and empowered overall, because they really trusted my creativity.

It was really intense, because they were big stages [that we played on]! And Michael is so energetic, and he’s a big guy; I’m almost half his size. It was a good challenge, because part of me is really shy, and if I’m sharing the stage with someone who is the leader of their own thing, I get nervous sometimes, because I’m like, “I’m used to being a lead singer, so how do I navigate this? What’s too much? What’s not?”

One highlight was when the band played [Colorado’s] Red Rocks [Amphitheatre]: 10,000 people; sold-out show. Apparently there was a point where the band members couldn’t hear themselves. I didn’t know any of this. I could hear myself—we all have in-ear monitors. There was this moment where the band wasn’t playing, and I was like, “I think I should sing right now, because it’s silent!” I had done enough tours with them to where I kind of knew when I could jump in, and I started singing a cappella. It was this really beautiful, powerful moment.

I saw a couple of YouTube clips of you performing on TV with Spearhead.

Yeah, we did David Letterman and The View. That was cool: I met Whoopi Goldberg, and she gave me her bracelet! [Laughs] She was like, “Ah! Your face! You have this familiar face!” She had this cool bracelet on that was made from Barbie Doll shoes [which she gave me]. So that was fun. And they keep those TV studios really cold so people stay awake. Even if it’s freezing outside, it’s more freezing inside—especially David Letterman.

You were homeless at one time. What can you tell me about that experience?

I had never really figured out how to make a living from my music, and the truth is that I must have not believed I was good enough or something. It’s so funny, because when I hear someone else who’s gifted in a way, I just couldn’t even fathom that they would feel that way, yet I’ve felt that way. Even if I feel it sometimes now, I just handle it differently. I just remember feeling so low and horrible, like, “What’s wrong with me? Why am I like this?” Who ever got better from thoughts like that, you know? [Laughs] It’s one thing to be like, “Oh, dude, I gotta get it together! Come on, you can do this!” or go to someone and say, “Help me learn how to do this.” Really, I think at the time, I needed someone to show me how to organize my life and how to manage whatever money I was making. So I was feeling really low and really bad about myself, because I had my daughter to take care of. Shame can cause people to not ask for help, and if there’s something that anyone could learn from my experience, it’s: Don’t wait to ask for help. If you’re willing to grow and change, someone’s willing to help you. So what happened is [someone] recommended a place called Alexandria House to me. They had two houses: one for single women and one for women with children. I can’t remember how long I stayed there, but I learned a lot from that experience.

Is there a central message to your music?

Be true to who you are, and share that with the world. I always feel like if I see someone having a hard time, I want to tell them, “There’s a way.” I have my moments where I forget that there’s another way or a way out, but that is why I recognize the power of community. Having a strong community can help you be yourself more.

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