Gabrielle de Gama will never forget the day she was first bullied.
The Joburg teen was in Grade 4 and had just moved to a new school, when she was first targeted.
“A girl put hate letters in my locker,” De Gama told the Saturday Star.
This would mark the beginning of many years of suffering.
“I used to get mocked about my hair. Having natural hair at a predominantly white school was frowned on and it got to the point where I didn’t even want to go to school anymore.
“I was also told my hair was fake. I couldn't understand why that would be strange, because the girls who said that to me had hair extensions. I never fitted in anywhere.
“I’ve been cornered in bathrooms and they would say I'm too skinny. I was mocked for wanting to be a singer, and told that I have no talent. I’ve been called ugly and even been invited to WhatsApp groups just to be mocked.”
And the bullying hasn’t stopped during lockdown, either.
“Communication was mainly online and I was trying to form new relationships with the other students. This opened up a lot of opportunities for bullying.”
Instead of allowing her bullies to bring her down, De Gama has used her awful experiences and turned them into positives.
Last week, the now Grade 9 pupil from Agape Christian School in Joburg released her debut single, Nasty, which focuses on bullying. The song, which has been produced by River Road Records, was written by De Gama during the lockdown.
Her song has brought to light some pressing issues affecting children around the world, and De Gama wants it to open communication about the matter in social circles worldwide.
“The reason I decided to do a song about bullying is because I feel like it’s always something that is spoken about but no one seems to come out empowered.
“I feel like youth issues have repercussions that are carried throughout your life if not sorted out.
“I wanted to tell my story as it’s a big part of who I am and have become. One of the ways I could express who I am inside is through music.”
She added that the song was also an opportunity to say what she wanted to the people who bullied her.
“This is a dream come true. I’ve always wanted to have my own song and started writing when I was 6. I’m so thrilled for everyone to hear it. It’s going to be totally radical. I can’t wait.”
The teen spent two months working on the song during the lockdown.
“It took me about two hours to get the main idea written on paper, as the words were already on my heart and mind.”
“After that it took me about two months to get the final product. It’s been really awesome to work on my single during lockdown because it gave me a lot of time to perfect what I wanted to say.”
Her single is in fact a result of several years of hard work and commitment, says De Gama.
“I started singing around the house since I could talk, but it was never really serious until I got the role as Annie in the musical production Annie Jnr at the People's Theatre, at the age of 11.
“I’ve always dreamed of being a pop star and performed at every family occasion for my cousins. It’s also always been a dream to one day work with Justin Bieber, who is one of my biggest inspirations. These are all dreams I would still love to reach.”
Aside from her singing career, De Gama is an actor, dancer and model.
She recently hooked a lead role in MNet series Reyka, alongside award- winning Scottish actor Iain Glen from Game of Thrones.
On the modelling front, she competed in the International Junior Miss SA in February last year and secured herself the Public Choice Award among others.
She is also competing at the International Modelling and Talent Convention in America.
Asked how a 14-year-old manages to juggle several careers with her school work, De Gama said: “Time management is very important when making sure you get everything done that needs to be done.”
“I’ve become so used to a tight schedule that it’s normal for me. When I do feel overwhelmed, I find it important to take a day off so the pressure doesn’t stop me from achieving all my goals.
“Having a few days off now and then also allows me to re-focus and realign myself mentally and spiritually. Having fun with my friends and family is very important in my time off.”
De Gama is also working on releasing her second single.