Ru Az

Bulgari's Musical Muse

Bulgari isn't just renowned for its exquisite jewellery – it's also synonymous with the most vibrant and lively events. And what makes a great night truly spectacular? Well, it's incomplete without a charismatic singer who flawlessly blends her energy with the brand's ethos. Meet Gena West, a jazz, soul, and gospel singer, who's been collaborating with the brand for 17 remarkable years! Gena graced Baku with her presence for Bulgari's Serpenti Collection 75th-year celebration. In our exclusive interview, Gena takes us through her journey to becoming a performer, her perspective on handling criticism, and even shares an extraordinary story involving none other than Queen Elizabeth herself – which is even more intriguing considering that Gena was born a princess.

Could you tell us about your musical journey? How did you discover your passion for singing and what steps did you take to pursue a career in music?
Oh, that's quite a tale. As a child, I was deeply invested in academics, pursuing Law and eventually becoming a barrister. But an unexpected turn happened during my university days when I discovered my love for singing. Because we did a show, akin to Grease or something, and I sang a song and everybody was like: “Wow!”. So, I thought maybe I could sing – and that is what I did.

Whenever my parents were hosting parties, they'd urge me, "Gena, sing something." During one of these gatherings, I sang Nina Simone's "My Baby Just Cares for Me," not expecting what would follow. Someone approached me and said, "Gena, someone wants to see you." I went over and saw Nina Simone herself sitting there, observing me. It was a shock! I worried she might be upset that I sang her song, but to my surprise, she exclaimed, "Girl, you can sing! But I heard you're studying Law?" When I confirmed, she shook her head and insisted, "Nope. You need lessons because your talent is rare. Sing! You were born to sing!" That encounter changed everything.

Returning to England, I took her advice seriously, enrolled in singing lessons, and before long, I landed a record deal. It felt like fate because I took her words to heart.

Nina Simone has significantly influenced your creative journey. Are there other figures who have inspired your musical career?
If it weren't for Nina Simone, I doubt I'd be where I am today. Her impact gave me the confidence to recognise my true calling. I've been influenced by many others, admiring talent and seeing things before they unfold. Honestly, I'm influenced every day! Take Beyoncé, for instance – the resilience she embodies in her music and her powerful persona greatly inspires me. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, her spirit resonates with me profoundly. I find inspiration in other singers all the time.

Could you share a memorable experience from one of the top-tier events you've performed at?
It was a small private event hosted by the late Majesty, the Queen, to celebrate one of her friend's birthdays. They invited me to perform three songs. One particular moment stands out vividly – I was singing one of the songs, and there she was, seated halfway down the long table, tears glistening in her eyes. It was a powerful moment for me, realising she was just a human – like the rest of us. That was truly memorable.

As the founder and director of the Stage 2 School of Performing Arts in London, what's the initial lesson you aim to teach to children?
To know there is nothing impossible. There's nothing that should hold you back from pursuing your dreams. No matter your background or the situations you face, remember, you're the head of your story, not the tail. Believing in your ability to succeed is key; if you affirm your success, failure won't be the result. That's the lesson to remember.

As an artist, how do you handle criticism and feedback? How do you use it to improve your craft and grow as a singer?
When I was younger, criticism used to affect me deeply, especially if it came from someone close, whether it was my husband or a best friend, for example. However, I've learned that the way criticism is delivered matters a lot. Sometimes it's constructive, but other times, you just wonder, "What was the point of that?" As I've grown older, I've learned to take it with a pinch of salt, distinguishing the valuable feedback from the rest.
I've learned to separate the wheat from the chaff, meaning I take in the good from what I'm told and discard the rest. However, I always find something to take away. Sometimes, even a negative comment can inspire me to achieve greatness. I extract what they say and use it to better myself.

Your first album, “Voices” is a critically acclaimed acapella gospel album. Gospel music has been called the sound of hope, the cure for all ills. Why do you think that is?
I have a profound love for Gospel music. To me, it's something you can't fake; it comes from the heart and resonates from a place of pure love. For me, God is synonymous with love. When you sing a Gospel song, it's healing. It has this incredible power to mend broken hearts, to heal people in ways you can't imagine. That's what makes it so special and cool. It's a source of hope for many. That, I believe, is the reason why Gospel music holds such immense significance.

What are your future goals and aspirations as a singer? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations that your fans can look forward to?
Sweetheart, there are countless things I want to pursue! I've got lots of plans, and they don't all revolve around music. I aspire to write a book or even host my TV show. There are numerous creative journeys I'm eager to explore! I'm thrilled because creativity opens up endless possibilities. You immerse yourself in various endeavours, and nothing seems unattainable. I live in what I call the "flow."

You've been working with Bulgari for quite a while. Could you delve deeper into your relationship with the brand and the journey you've had together?
I truly mean this – I absolutely adore Bulgari. I resonate with its message of empowerment and boldness – it's all about embracing endless possibilities without holding back. That kind of attitude is something I deeply cherish, especially as a woman. I've been collaborating with the brand since 2006 when they discovered me as a singer, and since then, they've been booking me for events worldwide. I've practically circled the globe with Bulgari!
I must say, they treat me incredibly well, and I get to adorn myself with these incredible, divine pieces. This year, it's more than just a partnership – I've become a brand ambassador. It feels right because I genuinely believe in what Bulgari stands for. I've grown alongside the brand, and my affection for it has only deepened over the years.