Gloria Estefan had an announcement to make about Pharrell Williams. “We have a baby!” But Estefan clarified, “No sex.” What the seven-time Grammy Award-winner was referring to is “Miss Little Havana,” her first all-dance album in 13 years, which was largely conceived and produced by Pharrell Williams. A year and a half ago the duo met through their trainer at the gym. Williams had already written three songs for the most successful crossover artist in Latin music history.
Once he finally had a chance to play them, Estefan was immediately sold on his vision. “I was looking so forward every day to going into the studio,” Estefan said. “I kept telling Pharrell, This is how I felt when we were doing ‘Primitive Love’ way back in the day. It was fresh and very exciting.”
The “Primitive Love” album was released in 1985 and spawned “Conga,” the song that put Miami Sound Machine, the group Estefan fronted, on the map in the U.S. Like “Conga,” the new album features Estefan’s signature sound of live horns incorporated into dance music, rather than relying on synthesizers. Similar to the early days of her career when it was a battle to convince the record company to use live brass, Estefan had to persuade Williams. “I told him, ‘I love these arrangements, but I would love if you would be open to bringing in my horn players and do exactly what you wrote, but with a live sound,'” she said. Estefan said he was over the top with the finished product: “That’s what it is when you do a collaboration.
There should be something that you both take away from the experience that wouldn’t have been there if the other person wasn’t there.” “Miss Little Havana” begins with the title track that contains the lyrics “17 with a body like a model.” Estefan noted that this is not her story. She once said, “When I was a teenager I was fat. I was shy. I wore glasses. I had a big eyebrow and hair all over my body. They were years of torture.” She called Miss Little Havana a “cautionary tale.” “As an entertainer, my job is to help people have fun. I was excited to go out there and do something that would be fun for my fans that was just a down-and-dirty thing that you put on when you’re having your celebrations,” she said.
To make sure the music passed the test, Estefan took a CD of the songs down to her car because that’s the one place she always listens to music. If she could feel the music there, she knew it was good to go. Still, of all the songs she’s written, the ones that she identifies with the most are “Always Tomorrow” and “Path Of The Right Love.” People often wonder how she can write so many love songs when she’s been married for 33 years—to her first boyfriend, nonetheless. Her response: “I’m married, not dead!” But being a wife and mother to her two children, Nayib, 31, and Emily, 16, is what truly brings her the most joy in life. Since her last album and tour, she’s been busy attending Emily’s basketball games and jazz band concerts. Emily demonstrates her musical capabilities by playing the electric guitar solo on the new track “On.”
With all the musicality in the house, Estefan said she was never the kind of mother who walked in her kids’ bedroom and yelled, “Turn that music down!” “Are you kidding? I would’ve turned it up!” she said. “We blast that stuff.” Hearing the energy and enthusiasm Estefan has in her voice, it’s hard to imagine that 21 years ago she was told she may never walk again after suffering a fractured spine when a semi-truck crashed into her tour bus during a snowstorm. Two titanium rods were implanted in her back and after extensive physical therapy, Estefan returned to the stage in top form. Today she says she isn’t without pain, but it’s something she doesn’t pay attention to. However, she must continue to focus on her workout regime, which was difficult to do when she was recording “Miss Little Havana.” “I was coming home sometimes at four in the morning.
I’m not going to get up for my Pilates class at nine. There is no way in hell! I need my sleep,” she said laughing. “But I’m great. Are you kidding me? They said I would never have another baby and that I wouldn’t get back on stage or walk possibly. So this is all pie.” Eventually Estefan, who turned 54 earlier this month, would like to write a memoir, but being a private person, she said the project will be a “toughie.” Rather than rehash the events in her life, she would like to write about the lessons she’s learned over the years. “It’s kind of like a game we are playing here. We’re all here to learn something and grow,” she said. “I want to win this game. I want to play it well. I want to make my life the way I want it to be.” And right now she couldn’t be happier with the music she’s making: “I’m super excited to present this new baby to my fans.”