October 13, 2020, 10:30:00 PM
Silvana Estrada sings from down deep, telling her soulful coming-of-age stories in a voice that embraces the legacy of Latin American song and carries it into the 21st Century.
Called “one of Mexico’s greatest young talents and vocalists” by KCRW’s José Galvan, Silvana, who is 23 years old, is the new voice of a movement of independent female artists who have characterized Latin Alternative music over the past decade. She has also been recognized internationally, performing and recording with artists including Uruguayan singer/songwriter Jorge Drexler, Chile’s Mon Laferte, Catalan singer Silvia Pérez Cruz and Spanish group Love of Lesbian, as well as Natalia LaFourcade and other well-known Mexican artists.
A multi-instrumentalist, Silvana most often plays the Venezuelan cuatro guitar, whose small body and warm sound suits her hands, and syncs with the rolling variations of her vocals. Raised singing Mexican son jarocho and baroque choir music and schooled in jazz, she is an iconoclast who dismisses musical trends for a personal, poetic style that goes straight to the heart of listeners.
“My music is made of who I am,” she says.
Silvana grew up in a house where not only music, but instruments, were made. Both of her parents are luthiers, and a path was worn to their home in Coatepec, a mountain town in Veracruz, by the musicians who arrived daily to commission a new violin or cello, or have their instruments repaired.
“When I wasn’t hearing musicians playing snippets of classical pieces to try out the sound of the instruments, I was listening to my parents singing traditional Mexican songs or Latin American popular music,” she says of her childhood. While as a little girl she “rebelled” by insisting on playing the piano instead of the viola, she never doubted becoming a musician. “To me, being a singer or composer was just a normal job.”
By 13, she was performing in local bars, chaperoned by her parents. Her artistic family and their friends lived on the edge of Coatepec, a town in a region known for its picturesque coffee farms and rivers, but also for drug violence. When at just 16 Silvana was accepted into the university jazz program in Xalapa, Veracruz’s capital, her parents rented an apartment there for her and her older brother so that they could avoid driving home on the highway after dark (her brother, the “oddball” of the musical family, is a software designer).
Inspired in her younger years by Billie Holiday and Sarah Vaughan, Silvana had mastered the jazz standards. As a teen, she found her own voice.
“When you’re 16 and you sing ‘Night & Day’ you’re like, ok, but what else is there?” She turned away from the English-language canon and started singing her own songs in the style of Latin American folk, “deep and loud, as if I never had a microphone.”
At home one weekend, she picked up a cuatro that belonged to her father and was “infatuated.”
“It has such a beautiful sound,” she says. “Holding it is like an embrace.” Her father made her the cuatro that she currently plays.
While attending a seminar for jazz students in Guadalajara, Silvana met guitarist Charlie Hunter, known for his collaborations with artists including Frank Ocean, D’Angelo, John Mayer and Norah Jones. After hearing her songs, he suggested they record an album. They turned her parent’s guest house into a make-shift studio and made “Lo Sagrado,” a collaborative album that included her first recorded compositions. A trip to New York followed, during which she plunged into the city’s music scene, playing with drummer Antonio Sánchez, Snarky Puppy’s Michael League and other acclaimed musicians known for their vanguard approach to jazz.
Silvana then went back to Mexico, moving to Mexico City to focus inward; she dug deeper into her roots and discovered a newfound confidence in her pure desire to “tell stories and make beautiful melodies.” She was welcomed by Mexico City’s active community of indie musicians and fans, sharing the stage with Julieta Venegas and David Aguilar, among others. Such was the response to her music that she embarked on a sold-out solo national tour concluding with a concert at the capital’s Teatro de la Ciudad. She also toured Spain, Argentina, Colombia and Uruguay, and triumphantly returned to New York, invited by Spotify to record her take on Juan Garbiel’s “Amor Eterno.”
The intimate, idiosyncratic songs on her 2018 EP “Primeras Canciones,” including “Te Guardo,” “Al Norte” and “Saber Olvidar,” have brought her an international following and a reputation as an artist to watch. That reputation led to Spotify choosing Silvana as one of their inaugural 2020 RADAR Artists.
Silvana returned to New York in February of 2020 and visited Glassnote Music headquarters. After meeting the team, and a spontaneous performance, both parties left mesmerized. She officially joined the Glassnote family shortly after.
Marchita, Silvana's anticipated new full length album, produced by Gustavo Guerrero, will be released by Glassnote Music.
“I’m making the music that I honestly want to do,” says Silvana, who can seem as susceptible to the power of her voice as her audiences are. “I sing my songs and I feel good. And the miraculous thing is that they make the people who hear them feel good too.”