Mexican singer Silvana Estrada finds beauty in grief
Eight days into her first-ever US headlining tour, Mexican independent artist Silvana Estrada has been trapped in ice.
A monstrous snowstorm that stretched 2,000 miles had reached Austin, Texas, where Estrada, 24, was forced to postpone a concert for safety reasons.
“Am I just having bad luck?” Sometimes I have to ask,” she wonders over the phone. “It’s sad to tell people to stay home, but when things like this happen I see an opportunity for us to rest and reflect.”
Today, however, Estrada is well outside of Texas and basking in the sun of Los Angeles, where she will perform a sold-out show at the Paramount Theater, featuring songs from her debut album, “Marchita.”
Tinted with elements of jazz, chamber pop and Mexican folk, “Marchita” – the Spanish word for “withered” – is a sublime meditation on heartache in all its gradations, heralding the disintegration of his early romance. when she was 19.
“Everything I learned about love before was super romanticized and full of unnatural stuff,” she says. “People talk about love through morals, rules, ethics. Artificial symbols without emotion. I learned to speak of love more in poetry than in symbols; in poetry I could express my feelings with freedom, and with freedom I found beauty in the experience.
Estrada, who lives part-time in Mexico City, was born to two orchestra musicians in Xalapa, the capital of Veracruz. They ended up running a string instrument workshop from their home in the small mountain town of Coatepec, where she remembers many past performers.
“That was super cool,” she says. “But I just wanted to rebel.”
As a child, she abandoned viola lessons in favor of the piano; at 12 she insisted on becoming a professional volleyball player – “I was so bad”, she says – then at 14 she studied psychology.
Estrada was 16 when she was accepted into Xalapa’s university jazz program; therefore, she accepted that music was simply her destiny.
“We all have our little rebellions,” she says. “But as I got older, it was less about being against the grain and more about satisfying my curiosity.”
Although Estrada plays a multitude of instruments, she especially loves her Venezuelan cuatro, a compact four-string descendant of the Renaissance-era Spanish guitar. His technique derives from the art of Mexican son jarocho, a style of folk music originating in Veracruz, characterized by the simultaneous strumming of stringed instruments such as harps and guitars. (The most popular son jarocho song in history? Ritchie Valens’ 1958 rock ‘n’ roll hit, “La Bamba.”)
“When I think of his jarocho, I think of the community,” she says. “We share songs about earth, about family, about sadness. We sing about the things we share with other people. It’s the same thing that drew me to jazz – sharing a space with others for your feelings, for expression.
In 2016, at the age of 19, she took a life-changing trip to New York to riff with jazz guitarist Charlie Hunter, recognized collaborator of Frank Ocean, D’Angelo and Norah Jones. Their sessions eventually evolved into a 2017 Latin jazz fusion album, “Lo Sagrado.” The following year, Estrada released a four-song solo EP titled “Primeras Canciones”.
She then performed to sold-out shows in Mexico, where she collaborated with influential artists like Natalia Lafourcade and Julieta Venegas. Estrada landed in New York in February 2020, when she signed a deal with Glassnote Records, with the promise of a debut album to be released before the end of the year.
The pandemic delayed the release cycle by two years.
“Most of those songs on ‘Marchita’ were written four or five years ago,” Estrada explains. “It can be weird to sing about a heartbreak from so long ago, but singing it on this tour, I really feel like I’m celebrating everything I’ve learned. “
Aside from the delicate strumming of the cuatro, a procession of percussive strokes, or the occasional cathartic sigh of a string quartet, “Marchita” is sober in its instrumentation – which, in turn, fortifies even the slightest inflection of the voice of ‘Estrada. Sung in Spanish, its verses rise and bloom like wild flowers, spreading out in an otherwise restrained mood.
“We decided that playing with a full band or orchestra would be too informative,” says Estrada, who recorded under producer Gustavo Guerrero, guitarist for Lafourcade’s band.
“[Guerrero] thought I had to give more air to my words,” Estrada explains. “Like in my song ‘Casa’, I sing about my aging parents and what they will leave behind…and the strings express those feelings too, but in their own language. Sometimes a sound doesn’t is just a sound, but sometimes, like when you hear a door slam, you understand its meaning without words. We give each other space to speak.
Now that she’s safe on the other side, what’s the silver lining of grief she sings?
“If anything, I realized how much I had to fight for my happiness,” she says. “In love, in life, in this capitalist world we live in. You have to defend your happiness. It’s the only way to get there.