“Armed with a sultry, velvet voice and a charming demeanor” — this is how his website describes him, but more than this, Gio Levy is a Filipino-Canadian artist who moved from Canada to the Philippines to pursue a dream.
Philosopher Plato once said, “Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.” And this deems true for Filipino-Canadian Gio Levy, who used the power of music through all walks of his life — whether adapting to his new life in Vancouver as immigrants with his family or coming back to his birthplace in Manila to pursue his dreams; Gio was most fluent in the universal language of music. But now having both cultures at heart, he uses his background for an extra touch of flair in his tunes, singing his way to success in the Original Pilipino Music (OPM) industry.
This performer is an absolute delight to converse with as he always has a very positive perspective on the ups and downs of life. With that delightful disposition, he has been making waves through the people around him, marking their memories not just with his personality, but with his incredible talent as well. Watch out world, we’ll definitely be hearing this guy hitting the top charts of our radios very soon!
Gio, now in his 30s, was born in Manila and migrated to Vancouver before the fourth grade.
“We moved to Canada because most of my family had already moved there and my parents were allured by the idea of having a better life for their entire family in this country,” he shares, adding, “Canada is able to provide pretty good benefits, so it’s not a bad deal as you age.”
However, he admits that the initial adjustments into the ‘Little Chinatown’ of the province, Richmond, British Columbia, were difficult both for him and his family.
“It was tough for my parents,” he notes, “They were in the tourism industry in Manila and their field of work/experience didn’t apply to what was in demand in Vancouver. They would have to study and that isn’t easy if you have a family to tend to. Plus they were in their mid-late 30’s when we moved,” adding, “They worked their butts off going from job to job. They’re amazing people.”
Gio himself did not want to make the adjustment more difficult for his parents, so as a fourth-grader attending Cook Elementary who could barely speak English, he would ‘monkey see, monkey do’ his way through school to be able to survive. “Before long, I could speak fluent English and my Tagalog started to slowly disappear. I had one or two Filipino friends growing up, so maintaining the language was tough,” he shares.
The town of Richmond did not have a lot of Filipinos, so growing up, Gio was challenged to completely immerse himself in Canadian culture.
He continues, “Since our neighborhood didn’t have very many Filipinos, or at least I wasn’t associated with any Filipinos in my youth, I immersed myself completely in the Canadian culture. Family-related activities are the only taste of Filipino I would get,” however, when his friends came over, he did assure that “it was great,” jokingly adding, “They always knew there would be good food [at home]. People loved coming over all the time.”
Thankfully, living in a very diverse community allowed Gio to never feel homesick or out-of-place, attesting his surrounding community to be very positive.
“My friends’ ethnic backgrounds were very colorful. Growing up as a Filipino wasn’t very distinct. I didn’t feel any racism nor did I feel like I was singled out because I was Filipino,” he states, then laughing, “A lot of people had this general idea that Filipinos are good at singing and basketball though. At least I was able to do one of them well, so I guess that was the advantage?”
After a few years, Gio had found a home in Vancouver. As mentioned, there was never any trials in discrimination, so he was able to pursue a spectacular education, making sure that he was involved in numerous extracurricular activities, which eventually sparked his passion for the creative field.
“At first, I loved basketball,” he looks back, “But in Grade 9, I joined jazz choir in high school. Ever since then, I’ve been hooked,” continuing, “After I got into high school, I quit sports for the arts. I was in choir, the school band, and had a rock band. I was also in one-act plays.”
Having his entire family live in Canada as well helped a lot with Gio’s inspiration behind getting into songwriting and performing. A no-frills guy, he mentions, “My uncles were musicians. But I had no intention to be a musician until much later. I remember reading a book or an article that said ‘What would you like written on your grave’. So I thought it might be cool to become a musician.”
After graduating high school, Gio eventually found a true passion for making music. He would bring his guitar with him everywhere and perform whenever given the opportunity, “always doing music on the side before pursuing it full-time.”
Yet unfortunately, finding success in that field in Canada was a long-shot. “[The Canadian community] had no idea what to do with my pursuit of a music career,” he shares, “Prior to pushing for it all the way, I was jumping from one sales job to the next because it was the only job that paid without a degree.” This why Gio moved to the Philippines.
A few years after graduating from high school and not finding the passion for any other occupation other than in the musical fields, Gio decided to take the leap of faith by moving back to his home country. Before leaving, he jokes that his parents “did everything they could to scare [him] before coming,” just to prepare him for an unexpected adventure. “I wanted to be on the Voice Philippines,” he recalls, “That was my only reason for coming. But then I figured out that I could survive here by doing gigs, so ta-da!”
And although opportunity didn’t simply come knocking on the door, Gio still was assured that the place to pursue his dreams was in the Philippines.
“I had family help me adjust for my first few months here,” he says, “I’m forever indebted to them because I hadn’t been back in the Philippines since 1996. It was a culture shock,” then admitting to having to go out-of-the-box to build relationships and connections into the industry, “I had a few friends who I only knew online, but they helped me a great deal. Tinder helped a lot too. A lot of networking. A lot of drinking. I wouldn’t say it was difficult. It was and still is a crazy fun adventure.”
One of the most important components in establishing bonds between Filipinos, he learned, was familiarity with the local language. So, he is extremely grateful with preserving his mother tongue despite growing up overseas. “Taglish is how we roll at home,” Gio remarks, “But when I first arrived back to the Philippines, people could tell I’m from somewhere else. My accent would show. It took a couple of years, but I think I’ve got it now,” elaborating further, “If you can understand it, you can 10,000% learn to speak it. Having another language in your pocket is pretty fun!”
Gio concludes, “I’ve met Koreans and Indians who’ve lived here for just over five years and can speak fluent Tagalog. What excuse do I have, right? It’s definitely important to be able to speak the native language of the country you’re in.”
As time went on, Gio “developed some great connections” by “playing everywhere and creating music,” eventually making a name for himself through live gigs and online collaborations with YouTubers and other artists. “Internet is powerful stuff,” he laughs, “They’ll hear about you even if your stuff is half decent.”
Z Hostel, which is an accommodation location with a rooftop bar in Poblacion, Manila, is where Gio began his humble beginnings in the industry, but still recalls it as one of his favorite places to perform. “I had a solo acoustic set weekly for RnB nights,” he reminisces, “It was amazing. It still is, actually. It’s a great room to play.”
From rooftop bars to an audience of thousands, Gio makes sure that wherever his career takes him, he still remains humble. When asked about his most memorable collaboration so far, he lists a handful of local artists, looking in retrospect, “I had a lot of fun singing at the Elements songwriting camp back in 2016. My favorite collaboration might be with Jessica Sanchez from American Idol. I also cannot forget singing with Morisette Amon, she will always drop jaws. Christian Bautista is really charming as well,” exclaiming, “It’s all good, really. I’ve been very lucky to share the stage with some of the country’s greatest.”
Gio has the heart of a Filipino and the soul of a Canadian, an immensely powerful combination that consistently encourages him to represent Filipino-Canadians on a global scale, starting with the entertainment industry in his birthplace.
“Filipinos value the entertainment industry,” he appreciates, “It’s a booming industry and no matter how different or how weird your style is, you will find a market for it. Filipinos are also very talented, so you need to stay up to date and/or practice hard to stay relevant. It’s a very good thing.”
Thankfully for Gio, passion will always overcome popularity, which is why he continues to push through making his mark in the OPM world. “I’m more focused on content creation than I am on the statistics,” he shares, “Filipino fans are honest. Like I said earlier, they love and support entertainment. It’s a great country to be a performer.”
And, to avoid homesickness, Gio knows that he always has the love of his family waiting for him back in Richmond, one flight away. “I go home twice a year. Going back to Canada’s awesome because I have no real family in the Philippines,” says Gio, “I focus 10,000% on work so when I go back to Canada, it’s pure bliss. I like it that way. I like missing them.”
Time is just a number for Gio as he believes that he “will move mountains this 2019” with a couple of ground-breaking upcoming projects, specifically his podcast “Creative Pickings” and new YouTube series “GLGL (Gio Levy Guitar Lessons).” His happy-go-lucky attitude relieves all the pressure to define the stereotypical success, looking forward, “Philippines is where it’s at for the next little while. But who knows! I may end up somewhere else in the next few years.”
Yet, wherever he goes, Gio uses to his advantage the fact that he has two cultures embedded to his dynamism. “People all over the world love Filipinos and Canadians,” he says excitedly, “Filipinos are hospitable and love to eat. Canadians say sorry for everything, even when it rains. What more can you ask for?”
From the Philippines to Canada then back to the Philippines, it may seem like too much of an adventure for some people. But, Gio always uses it as an opportunity to learn and explore more of his surroundings, how he’ll use that to his advantage to try new things and continue to push himself to be better, both as a musician and as a representation of Filipinos worldwide. In his words, “As long as I’m having fun, I’ll stick around.”