You’ve heard her voice before, perhaps at her parents’ instrument workshop in Coatepec in the Mexican state of Veracruz. In it, the musician Silvana Estrada recorded a live performance last year for El Tiny, NPR Tiny Desk’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebration. Her performance, featuring her voice at center stage accompanied by a tiny Venezuelan cuatro and a surprise string quartet, garnered hundreds of thousands of views, bringing her sound to new audiences.
At the center of Estrada’s work is her voice, a tool with an unparalleled range through which she brings verse into life. With her heart in her mouth, Estrada channels more of this essence in Marchita, an album full of nostalgia and deep romanticism out today. In 11 tracks, the singer explores longing, sadness, and the aging of her parents. We travel with her through heartbreak and loss, from dark to light.
“For me, everything I do has to do with being more free. Be it to be free to incorporate an orchestra into my music, or a ballet, or a musician of African roots. I think that’s why I do what I do, because of the need to share, to create, to connect,” Estrada tells Remezcla a few days before the release of her new LP.
For Estrada, the disease of any century is falling in love. The name of the album, Marchita, meaning withered, alludes to the shrinking and dying of something once beautiful. In this case, love. “Te Guardo” captures the feeling of euphoric young love. In the titular song “Marchita,” Estrada sings directly about the period of her life that this album is about, and the eventual sprouting of something new. Later in the album, Estrada pays homage to her parents and the music they bestowed upon her through “Casa.” The album then closes with an instrumental track, “La Enfermedad Del Siglo.”
In music, Estrada’s influences range from Soledad Bravo to Chavela Vargas — women with distinct and haunting selves who came alive on stage with every performance. For her lyrics, she finds inspiration in Argentine poet Alejandra Pizarnik, Uruguayan poet Idea Vilariño, Mexican writer Rosario Castellanos, and another Argentine poet whom she admires deeply, Roberto Juarroz.
You see, Estrada is a poet at heart. “I always try to be in touch with poetry, with words. It’s important to nourish that part too,” she says. That awareness of words leads to Estrada’s transporting lyrics. She sings nostalgic and melancholic notes of universal pain. Her emotions are yours too.
While not a deep departure from her early work, Marchita is a much quieter, intimate, and peaceful set of tracks. Each song is stripped back to the essentials: the instruments she can control. Most of the album is just you — the listener —, a set of traditional string instruments, and Estrada’s voice flexing and bending in inexplicable ways like an instrument of its own. Marchita is not tied to a time, place, or a specific aesthetic. Instead, through acoustic qualities, Estrada has set out to create a visceral, poignant, and ultimately timeless piece of work.
The styles, rhythms, sounds, and pauses of this album are perhaps rooted in a particular setting that defines most of Estrada’s work — her home, her life in Coatepec, and her early relationship to music. There’s a direct call for home, for what once was, for what has now withered, in most of the songs in the album. “I believe that home and peace are things you carry inside. To feel close to the people I love, to my roots, I simply must sing. To sing in the way I know how. To talk about love, about my past, about the field, the river, my childhood,” she says.
“I believe that home & peace are things you carry inside. To feel close to the people I love, to my roots, I simply must sing. To sing in the way I know how.”
But Estrada’s career is anything but withering. Her songs “Al Norte” and “Te Guardo,” both from her 2018 EP Primeras Canciones, continue to travel through the U.S. and across Latin America. Estrada has collaborated with legends like Natalia Lafourcade and Mon Laferte. Marchita is a sign that Estrada’s career has just begun, and there’s no stopping now; she’s at the precipice of something extraordinary.
This month, Estrada begins a tour across North America. She’ll re-discover who she is, as a performer and musician, in front of an audience that isn’t completely Spanish-speaking. “On a stage, speaking English, I feel like I become a different person,” she says. “Language shapes us and makes us a certain way. So now it’s going to be about discovering who I am and how I connect with this audience through my songs.”
In April, Estrada hopes to record a new album. For now, the 11 songs that make Marchita will play on repeat in your library –– sneaking their way into every heartbreaking playlist you curate for the foreseeable future, holding a bright spot for those emotions we keep hidden. Soon enough, we’ll begin again the process of mourning and grieving and growing with Estrada through song.
Listen to Marchita below.