Rising Mexican star Silvana Estrada wows UNCG audience

Posted on February 01, 2022

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Silvana Estrada, UNCG’s Tew Recital Hall, Jan. 28, 2022. Photographer: Lynn Donovan. Photo courtesy NC Folk Festival.

Silvana Estrada is a rising star on the international folk music scene. The largest news outlets have profiled her in recent weeks. The 24-year-old opened her first solo tour of the US in recent days.

And UNC Greensboro was one of the first stops.

She performed on Jan. 28 to a full house in UNCG’s Tew Recital Hall.

The next day she held a Q&A about her music for students and community members in the UNCG School of Music Building.

Marisa Gonzalez ’16 got a great seat for both events. “As a UNCG alumna with Mexican roots, it was a true joy to see Silvana Estrada come to Greensboro and specifically perform at UNCG,” she said. Assistant Director of Latinx Recruitment Initiatives in Undergraduate Admissions, Gonzalez is an adjunct Spanish lecturer and co-advisor for UNCG’s Association of Latino Professionals For America chapter. 

“Her performance on campus – and sharing this experience with other friends that share the same love for Mexican folk music – made the night extra special.”  

First, some backstory: Amy Grossman, who leads the NC Folk Festival, explained Estrada was going to be a featured performer at the 2020 NC Folk Festival, but the pandemic of course canceled the in-person festival that year. So, as Estrada opens her new tour supporting her just-released album, the NC Folk Festival, with support from UNCG and from the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts, brought her to UNCG’s Tew Recital Hall for a performance.

Silvana Estrada, UNCG’s Tew Recital Hall, Jan. 28, 2022. Photographer: Lynn Donovan. Photo courtesy NC Folk Festival.

Dr. Gavin Douglas, professor of ethnomusicology who has a long association with the folk festival, said, “Coming from Veracruz, Mexico, she is intimately familiar with numerous traditions of the area, and she also draws extensively from Columbia and Venezuelan traditions, notably with her use of the Venezuelan cuatro. She also has a jazz background that informs her work.” And her work is very unique. 

When Douglas introduced her at the Saturday Q&A, one of the first questions was about her vocal style. Douglas noted in an interview afterward the “acrobatic way she uses her voice, improvising large leaps with lots of timbral variety across a very wide vocal range.”

Some excerpts from her responses to the audience’s questions:

Your singing has elements of flamenco? “The traditional music from Veracruz, even the instruments and the words … are really attached to the Spanish folklore, como flamenco. Yeah. But even if – like, I’ve never considered myself able to sing like a flamenco singer because it’s way deep, way different, and it’s really special the way they sing.” 

On being original “With all the, like, folkloric knowledge that I have, I try to improvise a lot. Try to let myself just be free while I’m singing. So I can just play around, never get bored of singing the song … that’s why I also have all those – the word is melisma – because I can get distracted. Really fast. So if I’m doing something differently each time then I can concentrate on what I’m doing.”

The instrument she played at the Q&A, a cuatro “I’m always finger picking. I really love how this sound … works, you know? Finger picking – it’s, like, so sweet. (She then discussed other rhythms and strumming techniques.) … And yeah, that’s why I choose the cuatro and I’ve been playing it. My dad and my mom, they made this instrument for me. They’re luthiers, they’re violin makers, and I’ve been playing this for a long time now.” 

Do you compose your songs using that? “Yeah, yeah. … Now I’m trying to compose on guitar.” (And she added she is starting to compose on the piano.)

Soundcheck, pre-concert. Photographer: Lynn Donovan. Photo courtesy NC Folk Festival.

Gonzalez, a UNCG Freeze Scholar as an undergrad, made it through Saturday’s snow for the chance to hear Estrada speak about her art, in the intimate setting. “It provided me insight into the magic and work that goes behind creating her music,” she said afterward.

Douglas, who has served the festival in various capacities, explained that he and Grossman have talked over the years about having some folk music events at UNCG during the year, outside of the normal festival time. “This was the first of – hopefully – many events that we will be working on in the future.”

See news coverage, in days before her concert, of her new album and tour:

CNNespanol “Así es como Silvana Estrada se enamoró del cuatro venezolano, su primer amor al que describe como “el más sano”

NY Times “Silvana Estrada Arrives With a Devastating Album About Heartbreak”

Washington Post “Silvana Estrada is drawing from the traditional to develop a style of her own”

NPR “Silvana Estrada wants you to find the song in your soul”

By Mike Harris, UNCG Magazine editor
Photography by Lynn Donovan.

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