Emily Estefan Is the Rightful Heir to Miami Music, But She'd Rather Earn the Throne

In one of Emily Estefan's first acts of rebellion, she knocked over a microphone stand with a swift kick from inside her mother's uterus. This is according to her mom Gloria, who was singing "Turn the Beat Around" on a roof at the time of the fetal assault. Actually, even being born was perhaps her earliest act of rebellion. Her mother had been in a bus accident that doctors said would render her unable to conceive.

"First rule: You're not going to cry."

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But four years after that accident, Emily came out. When she was born, her mom says, people would stick their hands into her stroller to greet this miracle baby. Then Emily would slam the stroller's visor down on their wrists.

Expectations follow Emily Estefan like a shadow. And that's because, if you haven't caught on by now, her mother is Gloria Estefan. Yup, that Gloria Estefan.

People have reminded her of that fact, as if she has forgotten, for much of her conscious life. And thus Emily has always lived with two versions of herself: the Emily you think you know and the real Emily. They are very different people.

For example, the real Emily is actually not a microphone-stand-hating ninja or a grumpy shut-in.

The real Emily, two months shy of turning 22, has just breezed through an on-camera interview with NBC 6's Roxanne Vargas inside Wynwood Cafe to promote her debut album, Take Whatever You Want. Though, she insists it did not go as smoothly inside her head as it appeared in reality.

The real Emily, dressed in all black and sporting an arm of tattoos and half a buzzcut, admits her life can be complicated at times.

"It's weird because it's attention, but in a way that's not connected to who you are. It's who people think you are and who you're attached to," she says.

But she'd be embarrassed if you thought she was trying to elicit any sort of sympathy. "I mean, it's beautiful. I wouldn't trade my life for anything," she says. And how could she? She grew up in a place — surprisingly not named by Donald Trump — called Star Island. No, Emily is not sad or angst-ridden in any way. Like you, she's just trying to make sense of this very weird life she's been brought into, against the odds.

Emily was born December 5, 1994, and raised in Miami. She got her elementary education at Cushman School and went to high school at Miami Country Day. It was a fairly normal upbringing, all things considered. But from an early age, she did have to develop an instinct for phonies — those who would try to earn her trust simply to get closer to her family. That sense had its benefits, though. "What it has brought to me is very selective, very, very close friends," she says.

Music was an omnipresent force in her life, and she can't really remember a time when it wasn't. She took to the drums early and enrolled in piano lessons. On her YouTube channel, a very young Emily runs through a gentle chord/melody arrangement of the Beatles' "She Loves You." But a prodigy she was not. "If you ask anybody in my family, I think very low of myself musically," she says.

Growing up in a house full of Grammys had its benefits and drawbacks. She had both a natural musical instinct and a deep mistrust of that instinct. It was difficult to tell if her love of music was authentic or simply an idea planted in her head by outside forces.

In high school, she took a step back from music and viewed it as a hobby at most. Her true love, despite her being vertically challenged, was basketball. Or maybe med school. Perhaps professional bulldog hugging. Either way, she kept music at a distance, but never abandoned it. She started a punk band called Sound Glass and frequented the Little Haiti punk venue Churchill's Pub to check out live shows.

But eventually, she got a reality check. "When I pulled away from it like that, I felt empty inside." And she knew her love of music wasn't a product of inception.

So she applied to Boston's Berklee College of Music, and though she "honestly didn't think" she was good enough to get in, she got in. Music was everything now, but there was still a final obstacle she had to overcome: She had to sing, which, surprisingly, she had never done.

At least not publicly — for anyone, especially her mother. So one day, on break from school, she told herself: "I have something churning inside of me, and it will not be able to get out until I overcome this obstacle." And when everyone was asleep, she pulled her mother upstairs, shut the door, and said, "OK, I'm going to sing for you now. First rule: You're not going to cry." Her mother began crying almost immediately. So Emily made her face the wall like she was in time-out. And then, horrified and clammy, Emily picked up her guitar.

"And then I sang for her, and she was like..." Here, Emily makes a sound like a ghost stubbing its toe on a porcupine, which, one assumes, is supposed to mean her mom cried, deeply and uncontrollably, at the sound of her daughter singing for the first time in the 18 years she had been alive. Which, for a mom, is the sort of thing that might justify a sound like that.

Instantly, a weight was lifted. "That saying has never been more accurate," Emily says.

Today, having graduated from Berklee College of Music, she is considerably less nervous (though listening to her own music still makes her want to "put knives in [her] ears," and watching herself on-camera makes her want to "throw up and eat it"). Her first album, which she has written and composed herself over the last two years, is due out in January 2017. Every instrument heard on the album — with the exception of the horns — was played by her. She wrote every note and lyric too.

You can listen to her debut single, "Reigns (Every Night)," now on Spotify and iTunes. The video just came out too. The track is far removed from whatever preconceived notions casual fans might have for the descendent of the Queen of the Conga. With a funky bass line and jazzy composition, the track moves along at its own pace, tightening and relaxing with each long note from Emily's lungs. "One of my biggest, not concerns, but something that I try to make very clear is to not expect a cohesive sound," Emily says of her debut effort. "The energy and the emotion and the feeling is the same." But the songs are an unconscious smattering of the past decade of Emily's audio consumptions.

And she's fine with that. Her artistic journey is just beginning, and the options are limitless. She's also fine with the fact that, for the foreseeable future, most conversations about her music will somehow twist back to her parents.

"This is a very new thing, what's happening. But I'm so proud of my parents. We're extremely close," she says. "I mean, I wouldn't be here without them for many reasons. And the biggest of which being that they influenced me musically, and they influenced the kind of woman I am and the kind of person I am, because they said no to a lot of bullshit so that they could be themselves."

And, with a last name the size of a city, that is maybe the most valuable lesson Emily can cling to right now: the ability to be herself, despite what other people want her to be. 

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Ryan Pfeffer is a contributor and former Miami New Times music editor. After earning a BS from Florida State University, Ryan joined the New Times staff in November 2013 as a web editor.
Contact: Ryan Pfeffer