As a little girl, musician Emily Estefan would hang out near the seven-player horn section at her mother's concerts. "When you have your feet on a floor that's vibrating just because of people playing, everybody contributing to a sound, and creating this kind of energetic wall... that feeling of creation between so many people — that's the best feeling in the world." That energy and power, she says, are her spirituality.
Estefan is the daughter of iconic Cuban-American musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan. As part of Miami Sound Machine, the two defined a universally loved '80s sound and took their wall-shaking Latin music to every American household. Estefan's own music may have as much depth as her parents' and she might be as talented as they are, but her songwriting is all her own. It's lyrically personal and complex, and sonically molded by jazz and funk. And she doesn't skimp on the horns.
The multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer
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Though she values her time onstage now, performing didn't come easily to Estefan. She was shy and felt protected behind her kit. Her mother told her: "If you weren't nervous, I'd be worried." But once she began writing her own music, she found comfort in front of an audience. "I realized it wasn't about me at all. It's about what I can do for other people, sharing whatever I have to offer," she explains. "I had to let go of my own fears and service the music. It's more than 'I am so nervous about performing — I don't want to mess it up.' You realize the music is bigger than you no matter what."
In high school at Miami Country Day, Estefan planned to become a doctor, but "music was always what made me happy," she admits. "I didn't think it would be a career for me. I thought of the daunting element of pursuing the same career as your parents. But part of growing up is realizing you make sacrifices in life, but your happiness should never be one of them."
She attended Berklee School of Music in Boston as a drum-set principal major. She calls the college a "playground for so many incredible experiences and musical journeys." She found her voice there and began to pen her own music. "I didn't start to create with any intention," she explains. As an artist, she was just beginning to get to know herself. But that music written early on at Berklee became her 2017 debut album, Take Whatever You Want. The songs are a smooth, soulful stew of amped-up bossa nova with a dash of funk — all sung in a familiar-sounding voice. She produced the album and played every instrument on it except the horns.
Estefan also has a songwriting credit for "If I Never Got to Tell You" from the Broadway musical about her mother's life, On Your Feet! She played Ultra Music Festival last year as part of the musical project To Jasper with friend Drew Atz. She also performed at the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors Gala in a tribute to her mother, who just this week hosted the 41st award ceremony. "Talk about nerves," she says of the experience. "Having opportunities like that has made me mature a little bit in terms of performance anxiety and being humble."
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Estefan is also in a contented relationship with
Estefan can usually be found at her brother's movie theater, Nite Owl Theater, which screens cult classics, or at the Coconut Grove Organic Market. She's on the board of the Underline — the nonprofit working to transform the land below Metrorail into a ten-mile linear park and urban trail — and suggests everyone sign up for the newsletter for events and classes.
This Friday, she's set to perform in the Design District during Art Basel. "There's something about playing in your hometown that's electrifying," she says. She's planning some surprises for the performance. After that, she'll begin writing and recording again. She's not sure what her next album will sound like, but she's excited to hear it. "That was a different girl who wrote that music," she says of her last album. "I definitely have more to say."
Miami Design District Performance Series: Emily Estefan. 6 p.m. Friday, December 7, in Jungle Plaza, 3801 NE First Ave., Miami; miamidesigndistrict.net. Admission is free.