Exclusive Artist Spotlight: World devotional diva Donna De Lory talks about her evolution as a singer and seeker, music as a tool to get present, and creating positive music for kids.
If you’ve ever danced your way through a Yoga music festival or practiced your poses to music, chances are, you’ve heard Donna De Lory’s breathtakingly beautiful voice. The former Madonna vocalist and dancer has been creating the soundtrack to the Yoga movement with albums like The Lover and The Beloved, Sanctuary, and The Unchanging since the early 2000s. Whether she’s serving up mantra music or spiritually-inspired pop songcraft, one thing is for sure: her music comes from an inspired life.
From Touring With Madonna to Finding Her Higher Self
In 1987, Donna became a part of Madonna’s touring ensemble, dancing and singing backup vocals on the now legendary Who’s That Girl, Blonde Ambition, Drowned World, Girlie Show, Reinvention, and Confessions on a Dance Floor tours, also appearing the documentary film Truth or Dare. In 1993, De Lory made her debut as a solo artist with a self-titled album on MCA/Universal Records, hitting #1 in Japan with the single “Praying for Love,” and landing in the US top 10 dance chart with “Just a Dream.”
She was on top of the pops. But something was missing. “I wasn’t singing my truth,” she says. “I said to myself, ‘Here I am, traveling around the world, promoting my music. I should be happy.’ And in many ways I was, but I felt so empty. My soul wasn’t being fed. I thought, ‘I’ve got to shift this.’ So I wrote a prayer—‘I want my life to change, I want my life to change’—on a piece of paper and put it in my dresser. And my life really did change. I got pregnant, had my first daughter, Sofia, and started making devotional and mantra music.”
“I started singing sacred music because I wanted it to lift me to that place of my higher Self,” she continues, “instead of singing songs about being a victim. In my younger life, it was easy to take that point of view—that someone had left me and broken my heart.
It’s been quite an evolution. This higher part of me—who I really am—has always been there, but the ego was covering it, layers and layers of wanting to be accepted and loved and never feeling like I was enough. Now it’s like, ‘Okay, Donna, get real. Every morning you get up and play music, because it’s your bliss—and it’s what you’re here to do. So you’re gonna share it, however you can.’ It’s about trying to be true to my authentic self as an artist, and trying to come from that place.”
The Gift of Listening
How can we listen in a world with so much noise? This is one of the questions that Donna, a longtime yogi and a mother of two, has been contemplating for the last few years—particularly when listening to the kind of pop music that her own daughters, Luciana, 10, and Sofia, 15, are being exposed to.
“What kind of messages are they growing up with? How can they learn to go within and listen to the call of their own hearts?” This is a theme that Donna often sings about, including her song “Guru Om,” inspired by the teachings of Swami Satchidananda.
So when Donna heard the positive, pop-friendly song “Listen” by singer-songwriters Avasa and Matty Love, she knew she wanted to record her own interpretation.
“The song has some great universal messages in it,” says Donna, “like tuning in to your soul to find the truth. There’s also a message for humanity: to listen to each other’s points of view and honor each other’s perspective. I think it’s a great anthemic song for our world, which is so divided right now.”
Donna added a new original verse to enhance the song’s message about listening to Mother Earth and to our collective hearts, and took the song to Luciana’s third grade class, recording in the school auditorium.
Her music video for “Listen,” which features her daughter and her classmates, appears here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H9YMY1j_ASs
“Listen” is the first single from Donna’s new spiritually-inspired album, Here In Heaven, which is already garnering press in the US, Europe and Australia. Featuring a sultry Brazilian groove, pop-friendly hooks, and a jubilant, multilayered chorus of kids, the track is a four-minute bliss fix—a summation in song of one extraordinary woman’s journey from global Madonna megatours to motherhood, Self-realization, and the heart of the burgeoning Yoga movement.
Donna was inspired by her experience of recording the chorus with her daughter’s third grade class, but it was daunting at first. “Here I am,” she says, “going into a room with 28 kids in a public school auditorium. At first, the kids were so loud, it was chaos. And I was there to work with them on a song called ‘Listen!’”
“But the kids fell in love with the song,” she continues. “We brought a couple of mics and a laptop into the auditorium, and the recording process was fun. It was so inspiring, getting them to connect to the heart through the music.”
Once the kids learned the song, Donna encouraged them to choose the lyrics they resonated with the most and take solo lines for a second recording, where the kids are singing leads. She plans to release that track in the months to come.
“When you’re young and you learn a positive song, you can pull a lyric out that resonates with you, and you can sing it anytime you want,” Donna says. “Like ‘Listen to the sound of your soul, it’s calling.’”
Music As a Mindfulness Tool
“Playing music, for me, is a tool to get present,” Donna says, acknowledging that her mind, like most people’s, is often racing with thoughts about the future and the past. “For me, being a mom and having so much on my to do list and trying to keep a career going, the hardest thing is being in the moment, you know? You go to Yoga class, you do your practice and you have those moments where you tune in, but everyone wants to know, ‘How can I stay in this place? How can I always access it?’ For me it’s really simple. I just play music that takes me to that place of peace.
“I think everyone needs to find their own tools to get to there,” she continues. “Because the fact is, we’re all human experiments. Who in history has been on an iPhone all day long? You feel like you have to stay connected to so many people, to work, it’s like your brain’s going to explode. I wonder what Swami Satchidananda would say about that. Or Joseph Campbell. What would they say about how to cope with all of the technology in our society and yet stay close to our humanity? Because that’s what I want for these kids.
“I think it’s important to encourage kids to sing songs that keep positive messages in their consciousness on a daily basis. Songs are mantras. We sing them over and over again. So let’s give our children uplifting songs that empower them.”
Inspired that her recording with Luci’s 3rd grade class was such a success, Donna has been going back to the school once a week to write songs with the kids. First, she recalls, they wrote a song about Butterfly Day, to raise awareness about the vital importance of pollinators. “We came up with a great song within the hour, and 28 kids got to write it!” she says. “I learned a lot from doing that song with them.”
When you write a song together, Donna observes, you have to listen to your own thoughts, and then you have to listen to each other. “These kids had different points of view about what the song should say,” she recalls, “so I encouraged them to discuss their perspectives. Even if they totally disagreed—just setting the intention to listen to each other’s ideas and create something beautiful together was important. Working with these kids gives me hope that, despite the politics in this country and how divided we are, there’s a way we can listen, and learn to understand, one another.
“That was the inspiration for me to record ‘Listen.’ Because it’s the greatest gift you can give someone.”
About Donna De Lory:
Donna De Lory is a singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who weaves myriad strands of world music, contemporary pop, sacred sounds and introspective songcraft into one mesmerizing musical experience. Her albums include The Lover and Beloved, Sky is Open, Sanctuary, and The Unchanging. Her single “Listen,” from her new album Here In Heaven, is available for free download for Integral Yoga Magazine readers here. Her latest video release is a song called “Piano Man.”