Since high school, the singer-songwriter Gabrielle Zwi has performed her music for audiences
across the country. The 19 year old’s music often focuses on peace, friendship, breaking barriers and
Jewish values, with no defined genre. She’s also a student at Montgomery College and a human rights commissioner for her hometown of Rockville.
You are studying government and music. That’s an interesting combination.
There’s not a ton of overlap. Creativity is needed in both, but creativity is needed in everything. Something I’ve been doing a lot in the past year is performing at political rallies and protests, so I guess I found that little niche.
I performed at the March For Our Lives rally at the NRA headquarters in Fairfax,
and I performed at some Students Demand Action events. I performed in front of the Department of Education, where we were basically demanding that public schools provide free period products in their bathrooms.
How did you get interested in music?
My older brother, Danny, has autism and he just kind of like stopped talking. The one thing he would do is listen to “The Little Mermaid” soundtrack on repeat. So, I would just join him in listening to it and I would sing along to it.
I got him to start singing along with me, and I’d say some words and he’d repeat some words after me and that was kind of part of the way he started talking again.
I think that was the thing that got me singing. I know in every audition I did after that, my go-to song was “Part of Your World.” That was the song we would always sing.
When did you start performing?
I started doing open mics when I was in ninth grade. From open mic, it turned into me opening for other people and doing my own shows. I probably started writing songs in elementary school. I started writing songs that were full and coherent probably in middle school.
How did the ukelele become your instrument of choice?
Growing up, I really liked “Lilo and Stitch.” They always had a ukelele and I was like, that was cool.
I started learning in ninth grade. It was after I had done my first open mic and had used a backing track, and I realized people usually play their own instruments so I should do that, too.
What are your songs usually about?
I really think that music can change hearts and minds, so I try in my songs to promote peace and acceptance, whether that’s a song like “Without a Label,” which was originally inspired by the experiences I had with learning disabilities in school, or “Understand Love,” that’s a normal love song that happens to normalize a queer relationship. But I guess all my songs are about friendships, breaking barriers, things like that.
What’s your favorite musical genre?
I don’t have one. I can probably give you my favorite artist from each genre. I absolutely love Kehlani. I guess her genre would be R&B, but I don’t know. And I love Bishop Briggs, and I love this band called AJR.
But my favorite singer is Ella Fitzgerald. I’m kind of all over the place. And what I sing is kind of all over the place, but most of my songs on my first album are very Grace VanderWaal. But my band performs songs from a variety of genres.
I might specialize at some point but not yet.
Do you incorporate your Judaism into your music?
Yeah, definitely. “See the Change” was originally inspired by a speech that I heard at a USY [Conservative youth movement] convention, and in the song, I say the words “repairing the world” which is like tikkun olam. So it’s a song about tikkun olam. It’s a song about my experiences with student activism and also my experiences with USY and coming together with that group to make the world a better place.
Find Gabrielle’s music at gabriellezwi.com.
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