Estelle on Coming to Overtown and How Miami's Hunks Inspired "American Boy"

Estelle knows Overtown's challenges.
Estelle knows Overtown's challenges.
Courtesy of artist management

With its myriad opportunities and exaggerated qualities, Miami has a tendency to elicit both the best and the worst from those who pass through it. For an insular trust fund baby with a legion of Maseratis at his command, time in Miami might be marked by powdery white lines and sizable multimillion-dollar settlements. But in the case of the more curious and measured Miami occupant — in this instance, British songstress and Grammy Award winner Estelle — the city's disparate cultures and eventful nightlife can produce wonders.

"I was [in Miami] for a week on one of my very first 'on my own with the crew' holidays," Estelle reminisces. "It was my first time discovering Spanish boys. We don't really have that many Dominican, Cuban, [or] Mexican boys in the UK... So, you know, I was like, Oh, good Lord — this is amazing!"

Later, while writing and producing her breakthrough record Shine, those same boys remained close to her heart. When her producers asked her what she wanted to write about, the golden-brown beefcakes of South Beach came strutting back into her mind.

Despite her fibbing about having never been to the 305 on her hit single with Kanye West, "American Boy," we doubt anyone will mind when Estelle returns this Saturday to perform alongside the likes of Jeremih, Kelly Price, and others at the sixth-annual Overtown Music and Arts Festival. Beyond the virtue of her being a consummate talent, the aspirational nature of Estelle's art — whether it's in her music or in her voice work as the character Garnet on the beloved Cartoon Network show Steven Universe — makes her an ideal fit for the forward-thinking and community-minded goals of the Overtown Music and Arts Festival. As she astutely notes, the fest will coincide with a period when many of the challenges facing Overtown — a historically black community that has long wrestled with segregation and a plethora of economic difficulties — are at the forefront of American consciousness.

"The more I've read about the area, I think it's just beautiful — and pretty timely, especially with what's happening this year," she says. "It's pretty great to celebrate and to put a highlight and a focus on the area."

As Estelle speaks, it's apparent that even if her life had led her to a career removed from motivational jams and relatable children's shows, she still, in some way, would have wound up making an impact on other's lives. There is a long streak of empathic concern that runs through her work, and as anyone who has followed her career (or just her Twitter account) could tell you, she's unafraid to show it openly.

"We're not in charge of all the different things that actually move people's lives," she says of the countless artists who have spoken out following the latest rash of racially charged police violence in the United States. "All we do is kind of give you a slogan... or give you something to hold on to, because music is something that will bring you up or lift you, energize you, or take you further down."

Regarding her forthcoming show in Overtown, she has made no secret of the feelings she hopes to instill in concert attendees.

"Joy... joy. I want people to be happy. That's my unending goal at the end of every single show I do," she beams. "I want them to feel empowered and happy and joyful — like, 'Yeah, man, I can go and wear braids down to my waist! That's fine! She did it, and she was having fun with it!'"

The Overtown Music and Arts Festival with Estelle, Jeremih, Kelly Price, and others. 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, July 23, in the Overtown Business District, NW Third Ave. between Eighth and 11th Streets, Miami; 786-529-4586; overtownmusicartsfestival.com. Admission is free; all ages.


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