Silvana Estrada is a storyteller on stage. The expression that she takes on her face when singing gives a complete vision of the root feeling of her songs. Her entire body is part of the music, from the manipulation of her guitar or a cuatro (a musical instrument originating in Venezuelan folklore), to the slight spasms of her body. She conveys suffering, pleasure, joy and hope within her lyrics. Stories everyone can relate to. In this way, the link between artist and viewer becomes closer. Her interpretation catches and doesn’t let go until the poem ends. “I am very aware of my people. From my musicians and the public, ”she tells EL PAÍS through a Zoom call as he prepares to embark on a new tour of Europe. “That’s rich: going to a concert and someone being aware of you. Let the person who is singing to you think: ‘I want you to have a good time’”. And she is clear about her job.
For the singer from Coatepec, Veracruz, vulnerability and intimacy during her show is a key part of the experience as a performer. Through her passionate storytelling, she manages to make people open up and experience everything the song intends to do. “Not all my songs are sad, but I notice that people cry a lot and I think it’s because often there isn’t a space where you can be collectively vulnerable.” What she sees is a different intimacy, one that can be achieved within the massive, and the energy generated offers, in her words, “healing.”
With this way of looking at music, it’s no surprise that Estrada performs to sold-out venues, including two recent dates at the Teatro Metropólitan in Mexico City, in front of an audience eager to experience this energy. And no one is left out. Estrada’s songs are universal because they take up a theme that “we have been singing about for centuries”: love. “I think that love has a lot of political value, especially identity,” he says. This idea fits with the reception and support that the artist has received from feminists or the LGBTTQ+ community. This is how healing can become more inspiring: “Music has the power to restore hope to any social struggle,” she says. “There is a whole series of values linked to art, which can also be linked to the struggle and social change. (…) When all else fails, a song won’t do it.”
Inspired by these movements, the singer knows that there is a social need for music and other types of art. “Today and always we need contexts and situations that link us with beauty. Love automatically links you to the beautiful things in life. I think we are living in a moment, in Mexico and in the world, in such a hurry, so much pressure, work, violence, dehumanization… In Mexico I feel that we are degrading ourselves. Ever since I was a child, I have seen a process: every time people care less that they kill women, that there is violence”. She herself shows this function by quoting Violeta Parra, Chilean singer and one of her greatest inspirations: “Love returns us to the beauty of the world.”
The magnificent thing about his work is found in the conjunction between music and poetry, going beyond pop love songs. While the former allows her to connect with her audience, the latter “is a journey within.” A song that is made up of both elements, “is the most precious thing I have to offer the world,” she points out.
Silvana Estrada’s path, like her way of telling things, has been special. Music was part of her life since her childhood, being the daughter of two luthiers and musicians from Córdoba, a place full of musical culture. The son jarocho, a genre native to the State of Veracruz that is linked to the Afro-descendant culture of the area and that is usually mixed with dance and poetry, has been her longest influence. Since then, he has had a constant sense of exploration. She learns more about musical roots or sounds from other parts of Latin America and the world. She also takes it upon herself to study enough to integrate it organically into her music and, in her words, she adapts according to her “artistic need” at certain times.
His brief academic career took place at the Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa, where he studied jazz and met acclaimed musician Charlie Hunter, with whom he recorded his first album Lo Sagrado in 2017, which attracted many ears. It was a work more focused on jazz and not so much what she grew up listening to, plus she didn’t have the focus on the lyrics of the songs, a part that she now considers essential. “That was a breaking point. The lyrics are important to me, I want people to understand them, to be moved, not impressed by the group”. She recorded another album with Hunter, but she moved away from those types of sounds.
Estrada dropped out of college and broke away from jazz to start working on his third album, Marchita. In this period, he claims, he found a place. He met his faithful producer Gustavo Guerrero, who shares his vision of focusing on the voice and was in charge of solidifying his ideas. For the album they built “a world of wood, with strings, double bass and the cuatro, all made of wood and organic.” The work was also recorded in a wooden house with a focus on space. When listening to the songs we can feel close to the voice and each instrument, as if we were in the same room where he performed them.
The work earned him a nomination for Best Singer-Songwriter Album and the award for Best New Artist at the 2022 Latin Grammys, which he shared with the nonagenarian artist Ángela Álvarez. After her release, he released her “appendix”, the EP Abrazo, also produced by Guerrero.
The producer is one of the most important elements for his current music, being an accomplice in his constant search, with a clear understanding of his creative process. “I understand that a very special sensitivity is needed to really understand where music can go. For me, working with Gustavo symbolizes a path of great respect and exploration, and at the same time I feel that it is a very generous process in which we allow ourselves to try various things.” And as in any relationship, communication is the most important thing. “Our process begins with sitting down to talk and teach us music, and then, when we work, everything is very careful, respectful of the processes and of the musicians.”
Her bond with the musicians on her recordings or who accompany her on stage is also key to her purpose as a storyteller. “Even though the arrangement is built a certain way, we always play with things. It’s important to me because I’m someone who plays many times a year. So it’s important to play, to have the spark to explore. They let me do it and they play with me.”
Silvana Estrada is preparing for a year of releases. Several “exploratory sounds” singles will arrive and in 2024 she will have a new album, which she assures will have a more pop feel. “It is no longer a dark thing, but something much lighter. They are songs that I made in the pandemic, alone in my house and they all have humor (…) They are a kind of search for love, but also for what it is really that we are all doing here. On the other hand, this approach to a more accessible sound is due to the fact that Marchita’s sound was so unique that it was important to create a separation. “That’s my search now,” she says.
The singer is also preparing for a tour of Europe, where she has found a large audience, as well as in the United States and Latin America. However, she reflects on her native country. Although he had the recent feat of selling out two dates at the Teatro Metropólitan, one of the most important venues in Mexico with a capacity of 3,165 spectators, located in the heart of Mexico City, he feels that something is missing: “My dream right now is to be able to tour Mexico. It is to go to Veracruz, Oaxaca, Chiapas. Do a real, consistent tour. Now it’s my turn (…) I hope that the next few years will be more about putting out a record that does well, winning an award, making music for a movie, acting. Those things that one dreams about… Sometimes they happen and sometimes they don’t.” She pauses. “When they pass, it’s very good.”
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