‘I felt that like somebody took my brain and dropped it on the floor. The thoughts weren’t stopping.’
Christina Labrador, Babylon
“I was always surrounded by music. My dad taught himself to play guitar and sing. My mom taught herself to sing listening to Karen Carpenter. As a kid, I grew up with my parents always practicing in the living room. Because of them, I knew a lot of the oldies, doo-wop and ’60s music. And my brothers, they each had their own flavor of music that they liked, too. My family is Puerto Rican, and that’s one of the things we love to do, go to parties and play.
“I loved freestyle music. ’KTU used to play it all the time, but I was also into funk music and R&B. At that time, Copiague High School was one of the best schools for music because they had such a robust program.
“My chorus teacher was Mr. Wurtzel. He was also the ‘madrigal director,’ which is a special form of the choir. He was just a wonderful teacher. He was like a dad to all of us, always making sure we were doing the right thing and helping us like just be our best. He introduced us to different forms of classical music and everything.
“At Copiague, I got my first role in ‘Godspell.’ I remember in the audition, I learned my 16 bars for ‘Turn Back Old Man.’ I did my thing and they loved it. I got the part of Mary Magdalene. And the night before the show opened, I got laryngitis. I was so upset, but the raspy voice actually worked for the character. It added to the performance. I felt so confident after that, and I realized this is what I wanted to be doing. I continued to do other shows and found more confidence and more love for performing. But my dad passed away my senior year from surgery complications, and I began processing a lot of grief.
“I then attended Hofstra University and fell in love with working at the radio station. I was the urban music director, and I was the first person to hold that position. It also was around that time that I developed OCD symptoms. I felt that like somebody took my brain and dropped it on the floor. The thoughts weren’t stopping. I didn’t know what to do.”
I continued to take lessons with singers who were amazing. I wanted to be surrounded by people better than me.
“I started seeing counselors [for my OCD], and they gave me tools, which were very helpful in the moment, but of course, the thoughts keep coming back at you. I realized that I was hyping myself up a lot because otherwise I was going to be really depressed and sad that my dad was gone. You know?
“I literally think I played head games with myself on my freshman year just so I could survive.
“That was the root of it. I got better at not judging the thoughts and just letting them go. I gave myself a time frame. I said in 10 years, I don’t know how, but I’m going to make gains. I am going to make traction.
“Around 30 [years old], I started to think about my patterns and think about how toxic I was to myself. I was affording others the respect, but none for myself. I could feel myself getting lighter and even my voice, it wasn’t as stressed or straining. Everything just started to change in that aspect.
“I really began to see that everyone has their own issues. It wasn’t just me who was quirky. It’s everyone. And everyone struggles.
“I continued to take lessons with singers who were amazing. I wanted to be surrounded by people better than me. They taught me so much about vocal technique. I began to train my voice to sing through anything. I learned to sing through it all.
“I started doing more shows and then took over a wedding band. I became like the first Latina in the agency within the 40-year history to lead a band. I also began working with the guys from Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam, which was a huge group in the ’80s and ’90s. My friend recommended me. They were originally looking for a tribute act, but I forwarded my original music to them, and we began working together. I do all the shows with them now.
“I now work as a vocal teacher, too. I help kids learn same vocal techniques that I learned so they don’t hurt their voices. I hope they all see how great they are. I believe in them so much. I know that they can do it. I know how much they’re capable of. I try to meet them where they’re at., I’ll be like, ‘Oh, see right there what you did there? Yeah, let’s do more of that.’”
Interviewed by Maggie Rose Melito