Ahead of the release of her ‘Marchita’ album, Silvana Estrada talks intimacy that’s beyond skin deep, and more.
Words by Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo. Photography by Ada Navarro.
Silvana Estrada is, in my opinion, one of the most intimate Spanish-language voices of our generation. The 24-year-old Veracruz, Mexico-born artist is tender in her expression of the ebbs and flows of love and deliberate in her process of creating so that that rawness bleeds through on the track.
From the sweet songs in her forthright introductory EP Primeras Canciones to the solemn singles released over the last month ahead of her debut album Marchita, Estrada’s work is proof that she feels deeply. Her voice, a balm I have consistently reached for on tough days. Whether it’s adding her spin to Juan Gabriel’s “Amor Eterno,” or pouring out soliloquies of sadness released on “Tristeza,” the young songstress is consistent in her examination of love through her body of work.
“I deconstructed my idea of romantic love during the lockdown,” she shares. Estrada’s latest project pulls from the depths of heartbreak following a romantic relationship’s rupture to focus on self-love—first, alone in the sacred solitude found on a fifth-floor apartment in Mexico City, and later, within the confines of a healthy, newly-minted relationship with a longtime friend.
“During quarantine, it was daily work for me to say ‘thank you.’ Thanks to my body, that I am still healthy; thanks to my mind, that I still get excited when I see flowers and I get excited when I read poems and I still laugh at the movies I like. So I still have the ability to find beauty in life. So all of that, like throughout lockdown, was very important for me to be grateful for every day, because I also realized that we are never really alone,” she says.
When we chat, Estrada is at home in Ciudad de Mexico with her partner and their dog Sola, who kindly popped in to add to the conversation as she felt fit. Estrada is just getting back from a long tour in Spain and getting reacquainted to life in the city—a stark but sweet contrast to the countryside lifestyle she’s accustomed to—ahead of a USA tour with Rodrigo y Gabriela.
By the end of 2021, Estrada will birth an album she’s been working on for years—about three trips around the sun, to be exact. Consummated and finalized throughout the pandemic, Estrada and her producer Gustavo Guerrero (who she calls her musical soulmate) spent the last year and a half sharpening the knife that will land cleanly through the heart. We chat about intimacy that’s beyond skin deep, creating new universes with others, and more.
This interview has been translated, lightly edited and condensed for clarity purposes.
Ecleen Luzmila Caraballo: As we know, intimacy has deeper layers than just the physical. It’s something that I feel like you capture in the production and the lyrics of your songs, whether in “Te Guardo,” when you say “Your eyes, that when I glance at, shine just like mine,” or in “Sabre Olvidar,” when you choose yourself and say “smiling is a remedy for the brave”—intimacy is a consistent theme in your work. What does that word mean to you?
Silvana Estrada: For me, I think intimacy, as you say, has to do with a language beyond words. I mean, for me intimacy is communication and it’s a communication of the blood. It is a communication of the soul—under the skin. I think that the most beautiful moments of intimacy are precisely the ones I work through in my songs, which are not really physical moments of intimacy, though I’m not saying that that’s not intimacy too, but [we’re talking] deep intimacy, no? the one I like to feel, the intimacy of love. In any case, I think it has to do with a language of the heart and a language of the soul… Two hearts that understand each other through their eyes. For me, that’s intimacy.
ELC: Your voice always takes its place in center stage, with clear but sparse instrumentation. Tell me about that decision that gives that very intimate feel to this upcoming project; it feels so personal.
ESTRADA: That decision and that process was very special in this album… it was very important to find the bareness of the music. Nakedness has a lot to do with intimacy; it also has a lot to do with strength. It’s like a naked body—a naked body of voice—holding itself up, no? A song that holds itself up, without the help of anything, of any instrument, or any production. In other words, a song that supports itself with guitar and voice. For me that is the strong song… in my universe, that is the song that walks. That moves forward. It’s a song full of strength and, in that sense, we are looking for strength within those moments of intimacy throughout the album. There are a lot of moments in which the voice is completely naked and little by little elements are added. I think that the search to defend the song in its own vulnerability was very important for me. As an artist too. To learn the value of that. The value of the simple things.
For me, [these songs] are very personal texts, intimate, from my heart. So it was very important for me that the way the songs were decorated were very respectful and very loving. So it had a lot of string presence and as you can see, there is no electronic or electro acoustic instrumentation. Everything is wood, piano, cello, double bass, viola, violin, guitar, Venezuelan Cuatro… If anything the only thing that is metallic is the saxophone and trumpet, but everything else is wood. So that too… I really liked to play with the idea that everything in the album lives and breathes. You see, wood and metal are materials that expand and contract. They call them living materials because they have their own movement, even though they are objects. So, well, it was a process of covering, little by little, that universe of nudity and intimacy.
ELC: This project was born out of a romantic breakup, right?
ESTRADA: This project was born out of a breakup of love. Marchita, it’s a bit of a journey into myself, like a journey into my inner self, to try to understand the mourning of love. I mean, yes, I think that loss is very difficult to assimilate and very difficult to understand. So for me, it was very important to be able to sit down and put into songs what I was feeling.
Once I read that Haruki Murakami, a writer I love, doesn’t know where he’s going… He doesn’t understand life until he sits down and writes novels. It’s like through his novels, he understands life. And it’s a little bit of the same for me, it’s like I have a connection and an almost overwhelming interest in feelings, in the human soul. And that interest and that connection that I have with life, I can only assimilate it if I sit down to write songs. So, during my healing process, after having ended a romantic relationship, I [wrote] all these songs in order to dig deep into my heart to heal and understand, and comprehend that, well… that feelings seem to stay forever, but there is always a little bit of light where you can go [and] you can heal. I think that in general, understanding and putting things into words helps you a lot to heal them. So, Marchita helped me a lot to understand—and to heal, especially.
ELC: How has your idea of love changed?
ESTRADA: Well, before quarantine I had a whole bunch of ideas of what love was. This idea of love, life, the idea of the Prince Charming. Somebody that was coming to save me, right? And during the quarantine it was like… Well, nobody is going to save me. I have to save myself. And this idea that without a man we are alone. It was like, fuck that. It’s not true. I’m not alone. I’m full of people who love me.
I started working in quarantine and I was like, I’m going to make a democracy of the love that I feel. I mean, I’m not going to give it all to a guy yet, because I have all this love. I want to give it to my mother, to my father, to my siblings, to my friends, to myself first and foremost, to my plants, to my pets, to the world. So, for me, this work took many months. To deconstruct and reconstruct my idea of love… I don’t need to be with someone. If someone comes, it has to be someone who can build that language I am talking about. From heart to heart, understanding that we are different beings who move at different paces, no? And well, little by little I started to build my own idea of love from scratch. And it was very difficult. There were two months of a very strong depression and then there were many months… [when] my whole concept of love collapsed. And then I was putting it together little by little, baby steps…
ELC: It’s a process that can make you feel as if you’re ill. I think one of the most common diseases in the world is grievance. Actually, that’s something that you declare in a conversation with Yuri Navas and also at the end of Marchita on “La Enfermedad del Siglo”—that falling in love is the disease of this century and of life itself. Tell me a little more about that; it’s a bold statement.
ESTRADA: Well, I think it’s the miracle of the century, but I also think it’s the disease. I’m not talking about love per se, because I think love is the only thing that’s going to save us from this society that we’ve built… so lonely and so cruel in many ways. I think love is what’s going to save us. But I do believe, when I talk about the disease of the century, that love for a long time has been and, I think, will be the biggest challenge for us to understand—to work through, and to feel with health and with respect.
When I talk about the disease of the century, I am referring to love that we no longer understand… we just follow the guidelines of our parents for example, right? Or of our grandparents or we invent our own love. I think that in this attempt to invent our own love, as we are trying things all the time, we also hurt people and as we hurt, they hurt us. So, well, I think that love is the great unknown, because apart from what we all know about love and we all know what it is to fall in love, don’t we? But I think that the great unknown of our century and of our generations, is to understand how we can live love and enjoy it, you know? I mean, enjoy it with happiness and beauty. In other words, I think that we have to discover the beauty of love, because I think it is very beautiful.
ELC: A miracle and a challenge. And, for you, the act of making music, writing songs, is it intimate, collaborative, both? How would you describe the process of giving birth to a song or an album?
ESTRADA: For me, how I’ve handled my creative process so far, it’s always pretty solitary.Until just a few months ago, I started to compose songs with friends, fellow songwriters. I just kind of dared to put together creative processes. But until now, all my songs, the ones I wrote for Marchita, the ones I wrote in quarantine, and the ones I continue writing—the most profound and meaningful ones for me, are still part of an isolated process. With a lot of silence… My boyfriend laughs at me because, when I compose a song, barely anything can be heard in the house. I close all the windows, I turn off all music, I turn everything off, I do a quick ritual from the darkness and the nothingness, then I feel confident to create. Then, starting from nothing—I write very quietly, I sing very quietly, I play a few notes on the piano, and I start to gain confidence, confidence, confidence, confidence, and at the end, I’m shouting a complete song. My process is very much my own, it’s hard for me to share it.
ELC: What do you feel has withered in you lately? And what has grown in its place—personally and musically?
ESTRADA: I think of my first idea of love, that romantic idea that I had growing up watching Disney movies, princess movies. I think that idea withered. That process taught me a lot of things. Musically I think it connected me a lot with music. That grief connected me a lot with traditional Mexican and Latin American music. And many times American folklore as well, blues, I connect that mourning with the human pain of disappointment and loss, right? In other words, loss is the oldest human feeling. Older even than the concept of happiness, which is relatively new. So, I think that this death of me, of my soul, brought me very close to music and to the intensity of music and poetry.
Now, I am growing a lot as an artist in terms of looking for a way to approach love. How can I continue to approach the subjects that interest me (which are feelings)? People, human relationships, but in a much healthier way. How can I continue to talk about love without having to repeat the patterns of traditional music? How can I approach my music with honesty?
I think that with that death of romantic love, I’ve managed to strengthen a lot of other loves. I’ve strengthened a lot of love with my mother. For me, reading about feminism, becoming a feminist, has helped me a lot to improve my relationship with my mom and even with my dad… with my friends, in general. My relationship with other women was enriched by this new search for other loves. I want to love in the most crazy and beautiful way with my best friends, or my little dog, or my mom, you know?… I think it’s been very helpful to me, in general terms, this mourning of romantic love.
ELC: Yeah, it’s a brutal loss; but it’s also a beautiful life gain in a way that, someone who hasn’t felt that heartbreak, is never going to know. Even though I don’t wish it on anyone, it’s something that changes you forever.
ESTRADA: Total. Totally.