SLAM on AIR finalist takes her poetry to the stage.
Gizelle de Guzman has been writing poetry for as long as she can remember, and it wasn’t long after she started that she began putting her words to music.
The 17-year-old singer has since used her gift as a way to help other youths deal with such issues as mental health and bullying, and her skills led her to become a finalist in the 2015 SLAM on AIR performance competition.
“I guess I started writing poems when I was in kindergarten, and I came from a very musical family and I started putting tunes to my poems,” says de Guzman, whose family came to Canada from the Philippines and settled in Alberta in 2011. “I still struggle with [the music] sometimes … I play with a piano, sometimes with a guitar.”
Like the best singer-songwriters, de Guzman’s compositions come from the heart and from experience. A mental health ambassador, she has used music to express her feelings after being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 2013 and at one point, she says, spent time in hospital.
“I wrote so many songs about that … to give hope to people,” says the young woman who has also worked with kids who have been bullied. “I really struggled for a long time and I felt I would be a good ambassador because I learned so many things in there. It makes me feel better to be able to help others.”
At first, de Guzman says, she didn’t take the music as seriously when it came to performing, tending to just do covers. “I was scared and I didn’t want people to know how I feel,” she says. “When I got out of the hospital, I got to be more open to people and singing my own songs … letting people know they’re not alone.”
After signing up for her first SLAM on AIR competition in 2014, de Guzman admits she didn’t take the first contest too seriously. “Then, in 2015, I decided to take it seriously and I got in,” she says. Last year, she performed her own versions of Vanessa Carlton’s A Thousand Miles and Meghan Trainor’s All About That Bass, as well as her own composition, A Farewell Song (Joy).
“Some people told me they cried because of [my] song,” says de Guzman, who lists English singer Ed Sheeran as one of her influences.
SLAM on AIR is a contest judged by a panel of three and run by SLAM in Airdrie, a group that offers performance and networking opportunities for singer-songwriters.
SLAM in Airdrie past-president Jay Stoudt says that everyone was impressed by de Guzman.
“I think it was her age and the quality of the lyrics and melody of her songs stood her apart,” Stoudt says. “I was really surprised at the amount of talented singer-songwriters there are in Airdrie, and there’s not a lot of venues for them to perform in and that’s what SLAM is all about.”