Gigi Saldaña

Meet Gigi Saldaña, the Alt-R&B Singer Whose Music Connects Afro-Latine Identity & Self-Care

Photo by Danny "Erre" Rosario.

With her bright red curls and arresting smoky eyes, Gigi Saldaña makes her presence known as soon as she enters any space. She carries a natural charisma that exudes wit and spark, a trait that endears her to those who would find themselves in her orbit. But it’s when she picks up a microphone that her draw becomes most evident. While she labels herself as an alt-R&B artist, her music pulls from many other genres, most sorely untapped in the wider el movimiento space. 

Saldaña’s command of her talents is what landed her as a contestant on Netflix’s successful “La Firma” reality competition show earlier this year. Alongside 11 other indie artists from all over Latin America, she sang in front of a panel of judges made up of artists and producers such as Tainy, Yandel, Rauw Alejandro, Nicki Nicole, and Lex Borrero for the opportunity to be signed to Borrero and Tainy’s NEON16 record label. Saldaña survived the first six rounds, coming in sixth place. Undeterred and spurred by her newly acquired insight into the industry and a reinvigorated love for singing, she returned home to Puerto Rico and committed herself to finish the work she’d started back in 2021.

That project, her debut EP titled Flor de Verano, is out today and features seven fresh tracks that range from dancehall and afrobeats to Jersey Club and trap soul. “[The album] was made to be a sensorial experience,” she tells Remezcla. “I really want listeners to be in a high-energy, positive vibes state from beginning to end.” 

If the first two singles are anything to go by, it’s easy to imagine listeners getting precisely those feelings. “Egoísta” is a vibey afrobeats bop that, like its music video suggests, doubles as the perfect song to soundtrack a day at the beach or, going by its lyrics, a seductive anthem for a couple’s night out. Meanwhile, “Whine for Me” features the EP’s only collab, as Saldaña teams up with fan favorite Cita for a fun and sexy ode that pays homage to their Afro-Caribbean roots and female empowerment. 

But despite the pinch-me experience of finding herself close to stardom at such an early phase of her career, Saldaña still encountered many obstacles, both external and internal, that made the journey one that tested her character and will. Raised in a household of musicians—her father is a salsa musician, her mother a gospel singer, and her brother a bassist—she nevertheless opted to become an athlete in high school and college to apply for scholarships. In college, she found success at long jump and 4×100 relay, all while studying criminal justice with a concentration in forensic science. But towards the end of her senior year, the feeling that music was her ultimate calling was growing harder and harder to ignore. It was another then-rising star, who went on to become a successful artist in his own right, who nudged her towards giving it a shot. 

“Back then, one of my colleagues was Lyanno, and I’d sent him a [demo], and they told me, ‘Why don’t you release that?’ And I saw they were doing it, and I thought to myself, ‘Well, if they can do it and they’re urging me to do it too, why not?’” 

Saldaña leaned into her new intentions but quickly found herself in the same position most indie artists do: needing a steady stream of income to finance their dreams. She was then offered an opportunity that gave her the windfall she was looking for and also changed her life. For the last four years, she’s served as a high school teacher, an experience she’s previously shared that has colored how she sees the necessity of social services on the island and with underprivileged communities. The unconventional and tumultuous swerves that her road towards becoming a singer have taken is one that pushed her towards affirming what she holds to be a core belief: “I simply trusted that everything [was happening] for a good reason and trusting my intuitions. It was key for me to trust that everything was for the best—as long as you were also doing your part, because [good] things don’t just happen out of the blue. Having that discipline and self-trust, and knowing that I needed to do what I wanted and not what anyone else wanted me to do was what helped me in those moments.”

Now that “La Firma” and Flor de Verano are seeing the light of day, there’s an opportunity to touch on topics that are very important and dear to her. One is mental health and how it’s still talked about in the industry in hushed tones. “Dealing with depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety is horrible. What’s helped me live with those feelings is how I react to them. I can think and feel whatever, but what will my attitude be in the face of it? Am I going to outwardly project what I’m feeling in those moments?” 

She credits working on the album as an outlet that helped her channel and tame a lot of those thoughts when they arose. “We don’t want to repress our feelings either, but [for example], music has helped me express those feelings. I’m an open book, and my music truly does speak about my personal life. Every detail, down to the most intimate, is embodied in my songs. That truly helps me release those feelings [from within].”

“I’m an open book, and my music truly does speak about my personal life. Every detail, down to the most intimate, is embodied in my songs.”

Another important theme is the visibility of Afro-Caribbeans in music genres that ostensibly exist due to their cultural contributions. “It’s super important that my race is represented. Black artists, or Afro-Latine artists like me, are definitely often excluded from spaces, especially those of us with frizzy hair or darker skin tone. I’ve lived it, and I’m sure there are other artists—especially female artists—who’ve experienced it as well.” She notes that it’s an issue that goes beyond the music industry, as she’s also fought it on other fronts. “It doesn’t matter what industry. I say that as someone who works in other professional settings, not just in music. So it was very important for me to represent music with Black roots, like R&B and others, and I feel it’s something that I’ll continue to do in the future as well,” she says.

In the end, Flor de Verano is Saldaña’s gift to those longtime fans who have been following her over her budding career, to those who discovered her through her stirring performances on “La Firma,” and to those who will listen to her for the very first time now. In her eyes, her goal with the album is the same no matter who picks it up: “I want people to feel genuinely good with it. Beyond just listening to it, because, obviously, that’s how you take in music, I want people to really feel it and feel what I do too.”

Liste to Flor de Verano below.