Silvana Estrada: La nueva raíz

El Sonido: Cancioneros
Albina Cabrera

El Sonido: Cancioneros is the first season of KEXP’s newest podcast series, El Sonido, and the first produced fully in Spanish. 

What keeps us rooted in a world where everything is changing? Music. We each have songs that connect us to our origins, and through those, we can draw the sound map of our lives. The first season of the El Sonido podcast offers a musical tour through the personal songbooks of key artists in modern alternative, popular and independent Latin music to explore what it means to be from a place and what Latin music is today. Host Albina Cabrera guides us through each artist's story across eight episodes, from the song that decided the destiny of Mon Laferte to the visual and political approach of Lido Pimienta, from the revolution of Villano Antillano to the childhood of Trueno and the comeback of Buscabulla. As we journey through the songs that shaped each artist, we get a portrait of the present and future of their music scenes.

Listen to the podcast with English subtitles on the KEXP Podcasts YouTube channel, or read an English transcription of our latest episode below. A Spanish transcription and audio is available here.

SILVANA ESTRADA: My heart speaks, it speaks spanish no? And my heart speaks to what I am now, and what I am belongs to an entire generation and a whole world of people in it. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana Estrada is the focus of our third episode. She’ll take me on a time machine that’ll lead us to the origins of song. 

An exercise in past and present that seeks to characterize the new folk scene of Latin America, and the generation that Silvana belongs to. I called her because if anything was jolted when I left my home, it was my sense of direction in my own story. Silvana’s music helped me find my way.

SILVANA ESTRADA: Something that’s very characteristic of this generation is the tendency to go both backward and forward to look for your sound.

ALBINA CABRERA: You’re opening the songbook of Silvana Estrada, the Mexican singer-songwriter from Veracruz. Alongside her, we’ll traverse the map of modern Latin American folk music where tradition and the future coexist.

ALBINA CABRERA: How are you? My name is Albina Cabrera and you’re listening to El Sonido podcast, the new and first spanish-language program from KEXP. This series is called Cancioneros. Here, we recall, build, and interpret the fundamental soundtracks of important artists in the alternative Latin American scene. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I feel like I’m a part of a scene that cares deeply about the art of song. They make songs with honesty, with a focus and a drive to say something, no? They seek to create that, a songbook that aligns with and is pertinent to its time. 

ALBINA CABRERA: We wrongly assume that roots, folklore, and identity are synonyms and words that belong strictly to the past. This episode will explore the other side of that because its guide, Silvana Estrada, is proof of a new generation of singers and composers from around the world who find timeless refuge in the roots of Latin American music. They listen to the reggaeton of Bad Bunny alongside a Violeta Parra classic or a Miss Nina song. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I think that is my scene. Very much turned toward the roots and tradition. 

ALBINA CABRERA:  Songs are a map and that is what helps us locate Silvana in today’s scene. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I think of Augusto Bracho.

SILVANA ESTRADA: …of Alex Ferreira…

SILVANA ESTRADA: From Spain I think of Guitarrricadelafuente

SILVANA ESTRADA: There are a ton of Catalan friends making amazing music, like María Arnal for example. 

ALBINA CABRERA: El Sonido Podcast began with a trailer where we asked an uncomfortable question, one that no one wanted to answer but we couldn’t help but ask- what is Latin Music today? A certain curiosity that I had when I recently had moved to the United States and one that I still haven’t been able to answer.

The responses to that question never seem right nor definitive, and that’s not entirely the point. I had to revisit the idea of the origin and complement it with the visions of artists who are also revisiting the roots of Latin American roots from varying entry points. That led me to recruiting Silvana for this episode. She’ll help me explain why it can mean so many things and why the meaning of it is often conflicted. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s true that a Latinx person wouldn’t ask that question. It’s like asking a woman what it means to be a woman. I think my vision of Latin music is that it’s constantly changing. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana isn’t the only one changing her opinion on Latin music, the entire world is. 2022 ended with the Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny being the most listened-to artist on Spotify for the third year in a row. That fact is the tip of an iceberg that shows that for the first time, music sung in Spanish is dominating the market on a global level. 

ALBINA CABRERA: What reggaeton and (the badly named) Urbano music has generated transcends specific styles and positively impacts music in spanish regardless of genre. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s music that’s working. Reggaeton has created something really beautiful, it’s made the spanish language THE language. 

ALBINA CABRERA: If there was a victory it would be that… It's no longer strange to hear a song completely in Spanish during an awards ceremony in the United States or see it on the charts in countries that aren’t spanish-speaking. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: Big labels didn’t prioritize this music before and now Latin music is sustaining them and they know it. We know it.

ALBINA CABRERA: The perspective on Latin Music in the United States isn’t the same as it is in other countries in the Americas, even within Latin America there are tons of interpretations and you know what, THAT’S GREAT. It’s a term that’s constantly disputed because it can mean so many things. It has its origins here in the United States, only being incorporated into the Academy in 1975 when the Grammy Awards added the category “Best Latin Recording”. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Just like that term, in a hyper-connected world in constant motion, the “journey to the roots” that Silvana Estrada and her scene are undertaking, or the idea that someone’s “identity” isn’t a journey to a physical place delineated by borders. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s also creating another identity- that of those who are living outside of Latin America and rediscovering their origin, their roots, because of this boom. They’re finding a new space. .

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana Estrada won her first Latin Grammy in 2022 for Best New Artist. Throughout her journey, she encountered certain stereotypes that the industry imposes in an attempt to define what it means to be a Latin artist. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I think there’s the risk that, for example, I go to the United States a lot, the risk that I don’t fit into a predetermined image of Latin music. Ultimately the United States, the massive music industry or whatever you want to call it, will pigeonhole you. It creates shapes that you either fit into or you don’t. 

ALBINA CABRERA: When one leaves their comfort zone and enters a new space, they encounter cultural molds that more times than not aren’t 100% right. Speaking about Latin music, Latin American folk, being Latino, is attempting to put an entire continent with endless types of music into a few words.

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s funny because isn’t it similar with European music because there are a ton of countries, but in Latin America there are also a ton of countries, right? And all of them are different. 

ALBINA CABRERA:  Even if we talk about Latin American Folk. There isn’t just one. Folklore means the wisdom of communities. There was a very famous Argentinian folk singer, Atahualpa Yupanqui, who said that “Folklore is a science and should be treated as such- with care and respect because the customs of these communities cannot be dealt with lightly.” 

GABRIEL PLAZA: Every country has its own Latin America. For me Latin music is that which addresses its identity, ultimately, and I’m not interested in talking about genre.

ALBINA CABRERA: Gabriel Plaza is a music journalist. He’s specialized in popular Latin American music for years. He’s a member of a network of journalists who specialize in Iberoamerican music. 

GABRIEL PLAZA: Music that speaks about their region, their place, their moment. Yupanqui said something beautiful. He said that he was land that walks, in a way. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Gaby has a point in that not only is “Latin Music” not a genre, nor is anything “latin” to be regarded as a single place, but also that the new generation of Latin American artists have been able to define what their time sounds like. They revisit their musical pasts to build a future. With technology in their favor, the processes and products that this generation is able to undertake and produce act as a hyperactive time machine. 

GABRIEL PLAZA: That idea of the movement to acknowledge the roots isn’t something that’s fixed. Identity isn’t fixed either. We’re multicultural. 

ALBINA CABRERA:  It’s in this back and forth where we see musical revivals and modern reinterpretations of historic popular songs.

ERNESTO LECHNER: It’s super interesting, and actually quite funny because in the United States people talk about Latin music as if it were one specific genre. It would take you ten lives listening nonstop and trying to understand it, and you still wouldn’t be able to listen to everything.

ALBINA CABRERA: Ernesto Lechner is a music journalist. He was born in Argentina but has lived in the United States for decades. He’s the co-host of the show The Latin Alternative and writes for outlets such as the Los Angelest Times and Rolling Stone. He tells us about the challenges as well as the opportunities that come from the confusion over what classifies as “Latin.” 

ERNESTO LECHNER: Even though you do sometimes get a bit of ignorance, I think that people even attempt and are curious, that this country is interested in Latin sounds. 

ALBINA CABRERA: What does it mean to be from somewhere in two-thousand-twenty-three? The children of these popular singers and troubadours move through the internet. Their stories live on digital platforms, hoping to beat the algorithm or, in Silvana Estrada’s case, use it to her favor. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: Beyond singer-songwriter, because I think that you’re automatically pigeonholed for being one. I think that I like to describe myself as a ‘cancionera’- that I write songs and I sing them. 

ALBINA CABRERA: If you ask me, there was a movement that was dedicated to being a voice for the voiceless in the most complicated times for people across Latin America. Some of them would become the leading voices in the new Latin American folk songbook, others would become known for protest songs. They were also called singer-songwriters or folklorists. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana prefers to refer to herself as a ‘Cancionera’. This is the music she grew up with. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I can trace the music I make to two, three people, but it’s really Mercedes Sosa above everything.

SILVANA ESTRADA: When I was a kid it was like… wow whatever this woman is doing I want to do. Like, it feels good in my body, Mercedes Sosa- she hits you right in the spirit, it’s as if she’s hugging you and you can feel it. 

ALBINA CABRERA:  In the first episode we revisited the figure that is Mercedes Sosa, Argentinean singer and folklorist. She’s the founder and signatory of the manifesto of the “Nuevo Cancionero” (New Songbook) of Folklore which is celebrating 60 years. I had to call Araceli Matus.

ARACELI MATUS: The “Nuevo Cancionero” manifesto was presented by a group of artists, musicians, painters, writers, and poets in Mendoza. It was a literary-musical movement, as they put it. It arose as a reaction to what was happening with their people and its intention was to create a space to develop artistic expressions that vouched for them. They were ahead of their time.

ALBINA CABRERA: Araceli is an Argentinean singer-songwriter and Mercedes Sosa’s only granddaughter. 

ARACELI MATUS: In other parts of Latin America similar movements came to be such as, for example, Tropicalismo in Brazil, Nueva Canción in Chile, Nueva Trova in Cuba. Extremely impactful artistic and cultural movements that I believe sat at the crux of their moments and what came after.

ALBINA CABRERA:  The Nuevo Cancionero traveled from Argentina to many countries in Latin America and Europe. Here again is the journalist Gabi Plaza:

GABRIEL PLAZA: There’s an entire generation that grew up with these albums, many tied to Mercedes as well, because in some cases their parents were artists or teachers who raised them with those albums that spoke about activism and politics of their time. 

ALBINA CABRERA: We’ll travel from the historic Latin American songbook to the one that Silvana grew up with in her house. We go to Veracruz, Mexico. 

It’s in that very house that Silvana grew up surrounded by instruments. She’s the daughter of luthiers, and a descendent of Latin American folk, who incorporated it into her studies of jazz and her abilities playing the guitar and the Venezuelan cuatro. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Veracruz isn’t just Silvana Estrada’s home, we can also say that it’s a place whose musical traditions have been preserved by its own community. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: Veracruz is a really magical place. It’s a region that’s been severely mistreated by narcotrafficking, and by scarcity. I’m from the mountains of Veracruz, where the music is much simpler and I think because of that I make an effort to make simple music because it's what you sing when work is over, when the land is ready. 

Is it a lot for us as the families with guitars in our homes, who play records so we can sing over them? No, we continue to play Chavela Vargas to keep singing the same songs over the albums of Chavela Vargas. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Chavela Vargas… you’ll agree that she was one of the most important voices from Mexico and a crucial part of ranchera music. The reality is that María Isabel Anita Carmen de Jesús Vargas Lizano was born in Costa Rica, not in Mexico, but she found her identity and grew roots elsewhere. 

ALBINA CABRERA: These things happen all the time, the idea of home and identity is something very personal. A similar thing happens with Silvana but with Venezuela, specifically with the Venezuelan cuatro which is the centerpiece in her shows, and the music from Venezuela is among her strongest influences.

SILVANA ESTRADA: There’s something there. That feeling that a light in the distance guides your path. I’m a big fan of Venezuelan culture, I love Simon Diaz. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Simon Diaz is a gem in the folklore from Venezuela. In 2008 he was awarded a Latin Grammy for his achievements, and his work has been performed by Mercedes Sosa, Caetano Veloso, Susana Baca, and many more.

SILVANA ESTRADA: There’s a Venezuelan singer named Soledad Bravo, I listened to her throughout my entire childhood. I know all of her albums by heart and it’s kind of funny because I’ve never actually been to Venezuela. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Soledad Bravo was born in Spain and arrived in South America as a child, she became a MUST in the Venezuelan songbook. She does a version of “hasta Siempre” in her album Cantos Revolucionarios de América Latina. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: You learn from these albums even though they were made before your time or are from places you’ve never been. For some reason it’s like coming home, or her albums are like my home, no?

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana just named two fundamental voices in the political songbook of Latin America: Mercedes Sosa and Soledad Bravo. Also, they were two women who were essential to their time. But let's skip ahead to the beginning of the millennium. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I think that the scene of my generation, and some previous generations, is really beautiful- they’ve really been like guiding lights for us to follow. Like Natalia…

SILVANA ESTRADA: like Julieta.

SILVANA ESTRADA: In reality they’re generations much before my own, but they’ve been hugely influential, especially for women. 

NATALIA LAFOURCADE: Music also embraces you. Music doesn’t divide. In music there are no borders.

ALBINA CABRERA: That’s Natalia Lafourcade…

SILVANA ESTRADA: I think it’s pretty evident that Natalia was kind of like the mother for all of us. There’s this conception of Natalia as if she travels through time. Like, she’s able to travel to the past, and also the future, no? 

GABRIEL PLAZA: Natalia is fueled by the perspective of the identity of where she comes from and also by the feminist movement that grew alongside her and other singer-songwriters of her generation.

We could say that her activism, much like similar movements in the 60s and 70s, was related to a cultural shift and to the patriarchy that dominated our generations and the world at large. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: Growing up with an influence like Natalie was very important for me and I think that because of that I’m a part of a beautiful scene in Mexico and Latin America. I’m going to do something controversial, but include Spain here as well, because I have amazing colleagues from there. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Natalia Lafourcade defined a new pop sound in the 2000s and went on to experiment with any genre she wanted. Tijuana born Julieta Venegas, member of the legendary band Tijuana No and a crucial part of Latin Pop’s history, exercised a similar freedom.

ALBINA CABRERA: Both artists represented an alternative to the hegemonic image that the pop industry perpetuated in the 90’s and 2000’s.

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s good to have references of those who came before you to keep you going, no? Because if you don’t, the journey in music can feel very lonely. I mean, sometimes it’s super lonely because it’s just you with your work defending yourself the entire time, you know? And you need these kinds of figures to accompany you from a distance with their music and their albums, you know? 

SILVANA ESTRADA: There’s a really incredible scene of independent women singer songwriters who are helming their own projects.

ALBINA CABRERA: We’re looking at Silvana, but this scene also includes artists like Laura Itandehui, María Arnal, Vivir Quintana and Las Áñez. The lyrics that the generation of the 70s used to talk about activism, politics, and exile are mirrored in this generation’s tendency toward vulnerability and belonging. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I talk a lot to my colleagues about older music. I just don’t get as passionate as I do about contemporary artists as I do when I talk about Chico Barque or Louis Armstrong or Caetano. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana tells me about the active time machine that is her generation. One that came of age exposed to the internet and that finds intimacy and refuge in music that transcends all of it…

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s very definitive of my generation- the tendency to go forward and backward to find your sound. It really piqued my interest, for example, when Rosalia publishes her playlists, you know? Or when colleagues of mine publish their playlists saint “these were my influences for this album” and there are a ton of classics in there. I think there are as many classics as there are new things.

ALBINA CABRERA: Modern music reinterprets the music of the past, with even more accessibility to the musical repertoires of the world. 

DAVID AGUILAR: I feel like I’m a part of a scene… of a spanish-speaking iberoamerican scene I would say.

ALBINA CABRERA: David Aguilar is a Mexican singer-songwriter. He belongs to the scene that we’re talking about and he’s a part of Silvana Estrada’s songbook. 60 years out from the signing of the ‘Nuevo Cancionero’, artists past and present rewrite the history, reviving their timeless heroes and protecting the treasure that is their song.

DAVID AGUILAR: We have a collective here in Latin America. There are 22 projects that make up what we call Núcleo Distante. It’s a Whatsapp chat. It’s a beautiful community.

ALBINA CABRERA: Having instant access to a song, the democratization that the internet brought, the algorithm, the platforms, all of it has contributed to an oversaturated music market. 

DAVID AGUILAR: That’s one of the biggest challenges we have as songwriters, is making songs that stand the test of time, that aren’t just local. 

ALBINA CABRERA: The current way that music is manufactured as has it so that the life of a song can be days or even hours. Silvana and her generation question how they can transcend time and convert their songs into relics. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: I think we’re facing a moment that’s made it clear how disposable music can be, and how quickly it can age. It all terrifies me. The world we live in goes much faster than I think I go personally. So in that way I’m always looking back and examining albums that are timeless.

ALBINA CABRERA: Speaking of looking back, this reminded me of a timeless song by Pescado Rabioso, one of Luis Alberto Spinetta’s first bands.

SILVANA ESTRADA: And it is exactly that scene that looks back in search of temporality.

ALBINA CABRERA: This song is from 1973, part of a fundamental album, an eternal album, called Artaud as Gabi Plaza tells us.

GABRIEL PLAZA: I do believe in what you mentioned about transcendence, of an artist who is not just of their time. That we can take this album and hold onto it for 20 years and say that it represents a generation, their moment, their struggles, and that they were there giving it their all.

ALBINA CABRERA: The phrase “Tomorrow is better” by Spinetta on the song “Cantatas de Puentes Amarillos” became an anthem for the revival of musical scenes. That what is coming will be better. For Silvana, “better” is always changing.

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s beautiful. You know that it’s an amazing generation, a very beautiful scene, if you look hard enough. 

ALBINA CABRERA: To close this timeless and spaceless journey, we decided to anchor ourselves in the songs. I ask Silvana which song would define the present moment in the scene…

SILVANA ESTRADA: It’s a new, young artist. She just released this album and it’s actually exactly what we’ve been talking about. It’s indie, but it’s folk, but also very contemporary.

ALBINA CABRERA: That is Laura Itandehui, another contemporary artist who is a part of the scene that Silvana belongs to, who explores the roots of Latin American Music, lives in Mexico but also everywhere, and uses her voice as one of her main instruments.

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana’s music is also transmitted by her voice. Her voice becomes the conduit of feelings that are not new, but eternal. The way she navigates her songs is one of the things I love about her. I asked her about her favorite composers and poets.

SILVANA ESTRADA: I think that Guitarrica is reviving the roots in a way that’s really interesting. Guitarrica listened to a song, I think it was an Argentinean song that said ‘Vidalita’ or something, I don’t really remember. But he ran with that concept and made his own song ‘Vidalita del mar’. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Alvaro Lafuente, best known as Guitarricadelafuenta, is a Spanish guitarist and singer. He released the album La Cantera in 2022. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: To me he’s one of the greatest lyricists of our time, how he revives everything on his own terms.

ALBINA CABRERA: Silvana brings another songwriting reference to her songbook 

SILVANA ESTRADA: To me, a major reference is the Mexican singer David Aguilar. He, for me, has been an influence in terms of how I work with lyrics, word by word. 

ALBINA CABRERA: David Aguilar, as well as Silvana, like to work word by word.

DAVID AGUILAR: I love love songs and I also like to look for blind spots, thematic cracks that can open up a bit of what we’re talking about, which is the world within songs. And I love working with themes that are at least someone aligned with social and political issues in my songs. 

SILVANA ESTRADA: The respect we have for words for the way they convey truthful messages. Provoking that vulnerability that the whole world can see from a place that protects and embraces. 

ALBINA CABRERA: At Silvana’s shows you’ll find that she can rupture a deep silence with ease and at the same time hold space for the painful stories that are being told. 

GABRIEL PLAZA: Silvana Estrada is a significant artist in Latin America because she conveys messages with introspection, she speaks about what’s happening with women, what they live through walking in the streets in Latin America. 

ALBINA CABRERA: Gabriel Plaza places her on the map of Latin American song both present and future.

GABRIEL PLAZA: She hits a sensitive chord that I think we can all relate to.

ALBINA CABRERA: Going to a Silvana Estrada concert is like entering an intimate world where being vulnerable… strengthens you. She describes the dynamic between her and her audience as protection, a hug. It makes sense to me that the time machine of this generation leads them to sing about these feelings. They have to revive the songbook of love but also of pain.

SILVANA ESTRADA: Most of us are talking about things that will be repeated infinitely- love, falling out of love, pain, sadness. But I think it’s important that these concepts are always renewing themselves because, I mean, the songbooks of the world repeat these themes, and they’re how we connect with our culture. 

ALBINA CABRERA: In weaving in and out of past and present, one country and another, artists find new worlds, eternal songs, and guiding lights for their lives and the music they make. We do too. We create the worlds we live in which are not always physical, nor permanent, nor completely present. They’re made up of memories with unforgettable soundtracks. Time travel is possible and it’s wonderful. Today we did just that via Silvana Estrada’s songbook.  

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