Donna De Lory

Donna De Lory
Maui gigs: Fri.-Sat., Sept. 25-26, 7:30pm at The Studio Maui, Haiku; Sun., Sept. 27, 7pm at Island Spirit Yoga, Lahaina
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“It was way cool and it’s totally different from what I’m doing now,” says Donna De Lory, when I bring up her most asked-about topic: her long career touring with Madonna.

Fans of the Material Girl know De Lory as part of her innermost circle of backup singers and dancers. Beginning with 1987’s Who’s That Girl Tour and continuing until 2006’s Confessions Tour, De Lory has performed and recorded with Madonna for more than two decades. She was even in the music video for “Vogue.”

So—when questions arise about life and times with “the best-selling female rock artist of the twentieth century,” according to the Recording Industry Association of America—you can understand why De Lory expresses multiple times how that experience was “totally different” from her solo pursuits. And though she says it cheerily, it’s tinged with the mildest here-we-go-again ho-humness.

“It was this huge chapter of my life—it went on for a long time,” says De Lory. “I did six tours with her, a lot of performances, a lot of records. When I started with her, I wanted to be a pop star just like her, and kind of lost sight of the music that I had inside of me. I didn’t even know I was a songwriter at that time.

“It was always a very interesting experience to observe myself growing, still being ‘in’ that and being grateful to be there—but [also] feeling there’s something different growing inside myself. I was kind of joyfully and blissfully wrapped up in that world—[it was] where I had to be at that time. Which was a beautiful experience, it was amazing. But then I feel like I really outgrew it. I really woke up to something deeper inside myself, a deeper kind of music, things I wanted to talk about, the way I wanted to feel.”

Backing up the ‘Madge’ has its benefits, even (and perhaps especially) when pursuing solo endeavors. Madonna would provide unreleased songs of her own authorship for De Lory to record, often producing them herself—songs like “Just A Dream,” originally intended for Madonna’s 1989 album Like a Prayer.

Since 1993, De Lory has released nine albums. The tenth is nearing completion (a remix album of 2008’s Sanctuary) and she’s already at work on her eleventh release.

Even amidst the demands of 20-plus years of world tours with Madonna, De Lory was able to gig solo on her nights off. “I would go off and do my own shows,” she remembers, “and connect with my audience through yoga centers—finding a home for my music in yoga centers and churches and community centers, and things like that.”

De Lory has established a place of prominence in the world/devotional genre—in many ways antipodal to power-pop—infusing yoga philosophy and melodic mantras into her work. With her unremittingly airy and ethereal vocals, De Lory is all about being deep, living a life of intent, and “following your bliss.”

Because of this, I didn’t anticipate the slightly valley-girl inflection in De Lory’s conversational voice. Nor did I expect her effortless chatter about remixing entire albums for club dance tracks with New York-based DJs, or that her daughters’ nanny would answer the phone, or her mention of their cabin in the Sierra Mountains that they don’t visit often enough, “because we are so busy.”

After some reflection, I found all this kind of endearing. The fact that I was surprised at all was more a reflection on my own assumptions than anything. De Lory is earthy and unabashed about her spiritual self and her visions for the future; she slips singing into her storytelling, but keeps a little mainstream sass. Even the anecdote of her introduction to learning mantras is touched by the privileged pizzazz.

“I remember being at [this] party at his house in the Hollywood Hills and walking in and seeing ‘Gunapati Om’ projected on the wall… I loved it. My mind wasn’t involved in trying to analyze it, but I could just feel the effect it had on me and my body and being part of the community and all those positive things you get from coming together and signing together and really being devotional together.

“I couldn’t put my finger on it—Was it the melody? Was it his voice? Was it the people? It was just beautiful sweetness and people’s hearts being open and together. The room was packed and I was so touched by this, I just wanted to go the next day, you know?”

She did more than go the next day. “Gunapati Om” became the opening track to her 2004 release The Lover and the Beloved. As the album’s liner notes explain: “[T]his CD is the perfect opportunity for me to explore the transcendent and meditative power of music.”

Though her history of whirlwind world travels is one of those run-into-the-ground topics, it’s been the key to her finding roots and musical satisfaction. “It was really like I was just helping [Madonna] carry out her vision, as my musicians around me are helping me carry out mine,” she says. “Being away from that—because I was really in her world and her vision—I can really build my own [vision] and the people I want around me to help me carry that out.” Maui Time Weekly