Who's that (other) girl? 

The duality of Madonna's longtime ray of light

Donna DeLory is one of Madonna's most enduring associates. Since 1987, DeLory has been an integral part of the Material Girl-cum-Kabbalist's career.

For 17 of the iconic performer's 22 career years, singer/songwriter DeLory has been in tow on Madonna's live dates and albums, offering heavenly backing vocals and harmonious moves. The multitalented singer has been performing since the age of 8, and her "day job" Madonna gig is just one facet of her balancing-act life.

DeLory's crisscrossing the globe this summer, playing cavernous sports arenas with Madonna's successful Re-Invention Tour, while juggling a series of unique solo showcases in intimate yoga studios supporting her recently released CD, The Lover & the Beloved (Ajna Music), a collection of sensual and stirring Sanskrit mantras.

The differences in the concurrent tours speak volumes -- in decibel and discipline. The Madonna spectacle features "loud music and people going crazy, dancing, jumping up and down," says DeLory recently from her dressing room at New Jersey's Meadowlands Arena. Her own voyage is much more meditative and calming. "I'm just playing my harmonium and singing, so it's acoustic and I can really hear my voice. And I'm using my voice more for healing and relaxation."

The range of DeLory's music is an appealing and inspiring mix, equally at home in a steamy nightclub or an airy yoga center. With a decade's worth of solo albums that progressively blur the lines between devotional dance and percussive spirituality -- aided by an ever-evolving interest in Eastern instrumentation and healthy living -- her career shadows and parallels Madonna's.

Her record label has dubbed The Lover "metro-spiritual" music, but DeLory isn't phased by marketing niches. "I've never wanted to be pigeonholed or categorized in any certain area," she says by phone just before a soundcheck with the Re-Invention troupe. "My goal is just to make music. Whoever it touches, that's great." Her music has found an increasingly dedicated fan base of listeners on similar spiritual journeys. "I've found that a lot of the people who love my music and what I'm doing are also into yoga and holistic living. And that's a similar lifestyle to the one I lead, so it's great to see the communities that exist around the yoga centers."

The yoga visits serve as a promotion for her album, but it's also a way to relax while on the grueling Madonna jaunt. At her solo shows, DeLory first participates in a yoga session, and then afterward performs a blissfully improvised set. "It's the total opposite of getting ready for a show and being onstage with the lights and people are staring at you. The yoga shows just sort of come through me. It's not about me, my ego or my personality. It's just music, coming from a universal place. Since I'm the only one playing, I can improvise a lot more with my voice, and just feel the energy of the room."

But there's no room for improv in the high-energy, highly choreographed, career-spanning Madonna performance, and the mother of 1-year-old daughter Sofia doesn't wallow in decadent after-show Truth Or Dare-style debauchery. "I do the show, then run out. I've been going back to the hotel to give my baby a bath and get her ready for bed. I walk in -- I've still got all my makeup and costume on -- and she just looks at me like, 'Waa?'" DeLory laughs. "She thinks it's really funny. If you ask her what I do, she goes, 'La la la la la.'"

DeLory notes that as she and Madonna have both mellowed and matured, so have the audiences. "I used to look out and see girls with bras on, or their tops off, and everyone was dressed up like her. It was more about that image. Now, it's more about the music and her overall career. They've been fans for 20 years and they're proud to be part of something that's lasted. And I think more than ever, she realizes how much her career has affected people," she says. "There's a responsibility now to have positive messages, to be a positive force and an example of light."

As holy diva Madonna continues to immaculately re-invent herself, delightful DeLory is right behind her -- literally -- evolving, transcending, and going la la la la la.

lee.smith@creativeloafing.com

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