Estelle Fanta Swaray is known for her unique music genre, her soulful voice, her eclectic style and her West London roots. With her new album set to come out in summer 2018, we can’t wait to see how the Grammy winning artist has delved into her music roots to bring us a whole new sound.
We had an exclusive catch-up with Estelle to talk about her music since American Boy, the TV industry, how she finds material to write about and what’s next for the talented star.
Melan Mag: How has the music industry changed since you started out?
Estelle: Oh my goodness, it’s gone back to the beginning, almost! Everything is a bit more modern, it’s all online. Staying relevant is all about being in people’s faces. You have to be here, or everybody forgets, because of the sheer volume of people who want to do what we do for a living. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same as when I started from years ago.
MM: Who would you say has been your best collaboration with?
E: That is a hard question. From Kanye, to Rick Ross to John Legend… and then I think about all the people that are outside that I love and respect. I can’t choose but De La Soul may be one of my favourites. I remember the very first record I bought was a De La Soul Single, Three is the Magic Number.
MM: Fab, and who would you like to work with that you’ve not yet?
E: I’d love to be in a room with someone like Quincy Jones and ask him all the questions he now seems willing to give us answers to. Diana Ross is definitely another one and U2. I like the way Bono writes, I like the words he uses and I think he’s pretty amazing. On the UK rap scene, I love Ms Banks, and I’m a massive supporter of Little Simz and Lady Leshurr. From my personal perspective as young black women, knowing what I was fighting for, what I represented, and what I was doing was standing in my truth. It’s great to see young women artists now fighting, pushing and doing an amazing job. I have a lot of support and a lot of love for the young girls and the young women that are doing well.
MM: What inspired your decision to explore a new reggae sound?
E: Reggae’s not a new sound for me. All the music I’ve ever made, it’s in the core of everything I do, at least one record of each album has been reggae. It made sense and felt good to do this and I started working on it almost two years before the ‘wave’ kicked in. So, I feel like I’m right on time.
It’s in my culture and it’s in my soul. My mum would play Young, Gifted and Black – the Bob Andy version – and Marcia Griffiths’ version – all throughout my youth. I would walk in the house to her playing it and her and my Grandma and everyone would be dancing and tumbling up. All my first references are reggae, it’s Soca, it’s African music, it’s Makosa all of that and then later on, as I got older, it’s Afro Beats. But no, reggae’s nothing new for me.
MM: Sure, that’s amazing. What’s the best thing about living in America and what do you miss most about London?
E: I came to the USA 10 years ago and things have drastically changed in the past 10 years, worldwide. It’s like we did a quantum leap or something, but there’s this never-ending deal of not having a glass ceiling. Although there’s a small subsection of people that are trying to take it back to the old days, there is still a sense of you can do anything you want. It’s so big, you could be a household name in New York but in Kansas for example, no one even knows you exist, but it doesn’t matter.
There are some things in the US and the UK that remains the same in black tradition that I find a kind of kindred spirit in. You know, like just the way we cook, the way we turn up, the way we party, the way we do family gatherings; the way we are with each other in general so I don’t miss London too much. I miss my family the most.
MM: I’m kind of late on the scene and only just started watching Empire. What was it like working on it?
E: It was an honour. To have such a great show believe in my record and believe in my moment and give me that opportunity. Everybody was so sweet and so cute to each other. Everybody’s just happy to be there and understands what they’re doing and their position in this time. All the actors and actresses are my friends, Jesse (Smollet), Taraji (P. Henson) and Terence (Howard), even before I did the show as I met them in different scenarios; Taraji was in one of my videos (Pretty Please) and I first met Jesse when I moved to LA 10 years ago.
MM: Have you got any other TV projects lined up?
E: Yeah! I’m expanding into acting now, it’s been a joy. I have two documentaries I am working on; one is about women in the business, behind the boards and is all about giving them credit and recognising female empowerment. It’s to see how women, black women in particular, handle the world, right now and handle themselves behind the scenes, in supporting characters right now.
The other one is about recognising modern heroes. I am heavily women-focused in all of my projects. I am trying to create a platform that helps to acknowledge, push and give support to women. And acknowledge the men that are supporting the women doing this. I’m also working on something to tell my own story. There’s a lot of people know the American boy part of it but not the other bits yet, the bits that were not scripted.
MM: Sounds great, can’t wait to see them! The next question is about music to match your mood. What do you like to listen to when you’re happy, sad and working out?
E: When I’m happy, I go to Church Music; the Clark Sisters or my African playlists, so Tiwa Savage, Davido and WizKid. They’re like the holy trinity of Afrobeats. But I love my reggae playlists too, especially my vintage favourites like my Buju (Banton), my Bounty Killer etc. When I work out, I listen to hip hop; ASAP Rocky, ASAP Ferg or anything Kanye. When I’m sad, I try to pull myself out of sadness so I listen to someone who I love like Ella Fitzgerald. If you’re feeling sad, focus on something else if you can. Don’t focus on your sadness.
MM: Amazing, amazing! So, when are you back in London?
E: I think I’ll be back in London when I’m on the road. We’ll put this album out in a few months, fingers crossed, so I’ll be back out there around then.
MM: And you said that your music’s out in the summer. What can you tell us about it?
E: This album is based on the love story of my parents. All my albums are all biographical and they’re all something to do with my life, at certain periods of my life. This is why it takes so long because I have to live a little bit in between! If you listen to my songs, I’m not very good at love, I’m not very good at romance and it kind of drove me back to my parents and how much of their relationship has affected my life decisions.
They weren’t together when I was younger, they met and then they broke up and then they got back together. They met, they had me and my two sisters, they broke up, they got back together 20 years later, they got married after dating for 10 years. The main thing that I took from them is that love is love is love. And no matter what it is, when it’s for you, it’s for you.
Watch Estelle Ft Tarrus Riley’s Love Like Ours video