The Mexican singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada grew up surrounded by instruments. As a kid, she watched as musicians floated in and out of her family’s bucolic workshop in Veracruz, where her parents spent hours crafting stunning violas, cellos, and guitars. “I saw that music isn’t just a way of making a living,” she says. “I would hear all these musicians trying their new instruments, super joyful and super grateful to my parents, and I was like ‘OK, this isn’t just a work tool. It’s a tool for joy, it’s a tool for passion.’”
Over the years, she picked up the Venezuelan cuatro — a four-string instrument that felt like a “tiny hug” when she would play it — and began learning firsthand how to process emotion through music. It’s a quality that explains the shattering intimacy of her new album, Marchita: The project’s songs, many of them stripped back and fragile as gossamer, incorporate Estrada’s background studying jazz, as well as her deep love of son jarocho, huapango, and other folk traditions from Mexico and Latin America. They poured out of her during a wrenching period of heartbreak that pushed Estrada to confront the long-held ideas she had about love and romance — an insular healing process that shaped the sound of the LP.
“The process of writing Marchita was really lonely,” she says. “I started it after a breakup, and it wasn’t only the breakup and the dissolution of a relationship — I think I was suffering because I realized love wasn’t what I thought it was. It was a kind of pain that was philosophical, so Marchita was an introspective journey that I took to find out what my truth was and my construction of love and why I was feeling so bad.”
Some of the tracks came together quietly around 2018. Estrada would play them at home, completely alone, and later refined them at local performances where she got to know each arrangement inside and out. When it came time to record, she had a deep understanding of what each piece of music required. Her producer Gustavo Guerrero also wanted to honor the closeness of her live shows. “Gustavo told me, ‘You’ve been singing all these songs by yourself, and it’s not an easy thing to keep an audience in silence when it’s just you and your little instrument. We need to pay homage to that,’” she says.
They resisted the impulse to overstuff her melodies. “When you’re in the studio, it’s always difficult to stay minimalistic,” she continues. “You have all this opportunity to play all these instruments. You’re like, ‘A keyboard! An organ! Another section of strings!’ You can do whatever you want, but we kept taking things out.”
Songs like “Tristeza,” with its melancholy center and piercing vocals, reflect Estrada’s myriad influences. “That melody is really specific,” she explains. “It starts really high and then it’s like a cascade, falling, falling, falling. That happens a lot in the music of Simón Díaz and llanera music that inspires me, still, every day.” Other highlights, like “Te Guardo,” are attempts to reimagine folk melodies without losing the album’s spare delicacy.
Though Marchita‘s exploration of withering love is bittersweet, Estrada says there’s a hopefulness that carries the album. “It’s about finding the light, even in sadness,” she says. That gentle optimism has lingered on the new music she started working on during the pandemic. “They’re songs about love again,” she says. “I was alone in my house, and it was like, ‘You know, I want to talk about love in a more joyful way.’ I’m feeling different. It’s a lot happier.”