Mexican-born singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada believes in magic. And why wouldn’t she? Nearly every time she opens her mouth, she sees its spells come to fruition. But the type of magic Estrada subscribes to is not some bag of parlor tricks dependent upon new-age gadgets and slick mirrors. No, the kind she appreciates is timeless, unfettered by anything but itself. It’s the kind of incantation that can bring someone to recall a time and place they never knew they’d longed for. It’s the kind that can summon tears from previously stoic eyes. It’s the kind that moves you, to your core. And it’s sewn deeply into Estrada’s new forthcoming album, Marchita, set for release Friday (January 21).
“It’s awesome to believe in magic,” Estrada says. “And to be so close to the magic, in this really weird world.”
The first time Estrada remembers experiencing this type of magic in the world was when she was about eight years old. She was in the back of her parent’s car, driving through the Mexican countryside with her folks. On the radio played the work of the Russian composer, Tchaikovsky. She remembers the key, it was in D-Minor. It moved her so much, she began to cry. It was the first time she wept at a sense of beauty. She wasn’t sad or upset; she was overwhelmed by spirit and song. She remembers the nature of the world passing by the window, she remembers baby cows. She remembers the infinity of it all. At first, she wondered if something was wrong with her.
“I liked it,” she says. “I cried but I liked it.”
But rather than anything being wrong, she realized everything about it was right. It wasn’t even as if, at that moment, she was choosing to be an artist. Rather, it was that her path just revealed itself. Music became a tool for survival; it even became survival itself. Music, for Estrada, isn’t a job. It’s what she does for joy. And for connection—to both her community and whatever realm timelessness comes from. It helped that her parents fostered her interest. They are musical people. In her home, instruments were both played and made.
“When I started to create my own music,” Estrada says, “I discovered also an overwhelming feeling of connection. Writing a new song, I found out that song is going to also really touch a soul that is not mine. I got so in love with that feeling. It’s magical to me.”
Estrada studied jazz as a young adult in Mexico. She remembers studying eight hours a day. She enjoyed vocal scatting. It was when she truly began exploring her instrument—her voice. And what an instrument. But her eloquent, sumptuous voice was aided by her study. While she can be regimented in her work, the art form allowed her to also understand a sense of freedom within music. As such, every time she performs, she keeps it fresh for herself with little vocal variations or movements. Nothing about the performance is stuck in cement, even if it is often rooted in tradition.
“I really want to feel like I’m free,” Estrada says. “That’s what I learned from jazz, the freedom that you can have.”
As she discovered more about music and songwriting, she dove deeper. She barely slept. She wrote and worked. She even began missing her classes. She even quit school. No matter, her eye was already on the prize, even if her teachers weren’t thrilled about her decision. In a way, who needs school? Estrada was already surrounded by the majesty of Mexico and its long cultural roots. In the country, unlike perhaps in other cultures, a rainbow of emotions and thoughts are honored in popular and traditional music, Estrada says.
“We can actually talk about depression or death or deep, deep sadness,” she says. “We have songs to treat those feelings and we have traditions to embrace and understand those feelings.” She adds, “I know my community because I know my music and I know my roots.”
At one point in her early career (Estrada is just 24), she began flying to New York City in America to perform and record with artists like the guitarist Charlie Hunter. To Estrada, the city was vibrant, big, and full of opportunities. Through her work there, she was introduced to a number of heavy hitters in the industry, and most, if not all of them, shared one piece of advice: stick to who you are. At the time, Estrada wondered if she should dig more into jazz. But no, they said, learn from jazz, but be yourself.
“Please choose your uniqueness, don’t choose the other way,” Estrada says. “That’s something I learned in New York.”
When listening to Estrada’s music today—especially her forthcoming LP, Marchita, and its titular single—one thing comes through more than anything else: a sense of authenticity. Listening to her sing feels almost like leafing through a history book of classical artists, voices that have moved the world through the millennia. Estrada is not Taylor Swift, she is not Doja Cat. She is instead more akin to an oak tree that has withstood the elements for hundreds and hundreds of years.
“I really have this feeling about timeless music,” she says. “I always get moved. Like that time with Tchaikovsky.”
Estrada is one of those people who smiles when she says she lives like an old person. She likes her tea, she likes being cozy at home. Her music is the same. She wants it to exist without boundaries or contemporary pop aesthetics. She likes things that are ancient.
“I have friends who are all the opposite,” Estrada says. “Their music is like from the future. But for me, I’m all about a ritual. Every time that I sing I feel like I could be anywhere in any time. It’s kind of a ritual of traveling to my soul. And you know souls can be really old or really new. You never know. But I feel like I have an old soul.”
Estrada says she’s been working on Marchita for many years now. She’s proud of it. For her, it expresses a healing process. It was lonesome to put it together in many ways, she says. Lonesome to write down how she felt in order to see it clearly, for herself. Lonesome, in a way, to share it, showcasing her singularity and her personal highs and lows. But in the end, it helped. Now, she says, she hopes it can be a tool of healing for others, as well. The album is also an example of courage, musically speaking, at least. Estrada wanted the songs and the performances to stand on their own two feet, unwavering into eternity.
“Just having the voice and the song,” she says. “I really wanted to honor that. I really wanted to show I’m this kind of singer-songwriter who can actually sustain the song just by her voice because I’m singing something that comes from my heart. So, I don’t need anything.”
As Estrada looks ahead, she essentially just looks within. She is not scared of aging, she says. Not scared of the future. She says she’s looking forward to being old and doing exactly the same thing that she does today. Perhaps above all else, music is the tool that allows her to be this way, allows Estrada to express herself as she is, unencumbered and otherwise unmediated. That’s what you hear when she sings. That’s the magic she uses to perk your ears and raise your eyebrows. That’s who she is.
“I can just be myself,” Estrada says. “I can express whatever I want in ways that language or just normal communication don’t allow me to. I can actually be free when I’m singing.”
Upcoming Silvana Estrada Tour dates:
1.27 → City Winery → Washington, DC
1.28 → NC Folk Festival → Greensboro, NC
1.30 → City Winery → Atlanta, GA
2.1 → City Winery → Nashville, TN
2.3 → The Parish → Austin, TX
2.4 → Club Dada → Dallas, TX
2.5 → The Bronze Peacock at HOB → Houston, TX
2.7 → Valley Bar → Phoenix, AZ
2.11 → The Paramount Theatre → Los Angeles, CA
2.12 → Brick & Mortar → San Francisco, CA
2.14 → Doug Fir → Portland, OR
2.15 → The Sunset → Seattle, WA
2.18 → Kilby Court → Salt Lake City, UT
2.19 → Marquis → Denver, CO
2.21 → Music Hall of Williamsburg → Brooklyn, NY
2.23 → City Winery → Philadelphia, PA
2.25 → City Winery → Boston, MA
2.26 → La Sala Rosa → Montreal, QUE
2.27 → Adelaide Hall → Toronto, ONT
3.1 → Turf Club → Minneapolis, MN
3.2 → Schubas → Chicago, IL
Photo by Sol Talamantes, courtesy Glassnote Records