Gloria Estefan and Pharrell Williams Make Magic On Miss Little Havana
Twenty five years since “Conga” made Gloria Estefan an international sensation, the consummate performer is back with a conceptual album showcasing her talent like never before.
Miss Little Havana incredibly marks Estefan’s 26th album. And with every pulsating beat, you get the feeling the 54-year-old has more energy and fervor for life than most women half her age. It was conceived by executive producer Pharrell Williams, who came to her with the title track out of a curiosity to explore the Latin music market. “[The concept] really piqued my interest; I thought maybe this marriage can bring me an interesting baby,” she says laughing. The album’s concept is the story of a 17-year-old girl who comes to the big city looking for freedom and romance, only to find heartache and betrayal. The marriage, as Estefan describes it, is the blending of her dancefloor-ready Latin sound with Pharrell’s smooth urban sensibilities. Both risks pay off; Miss Little Havana is an explosion of beats that sees Gloria returning to her roots, an album reminiscent of hit records like Let It Loose and Primitive Love.
“I have a feeling this record is going to remind my fans of where we started and how we’ve grown. My fans have given me the opportunity to evolve; I’ve really been able to express myself as an artist in every way that I am,” she says. “And dance music unites as human beings. Songs like ‘Conga,’ ‘Rhythm Is Gonna Get You’; if I perform them in Japan, Europe, anywhere, it doesn’t matter if you don’t understand the lyrics, you feel the drums. Dancing is one of the things that unites us, regardless of age, background or social standing.”
In addition to the lead single “Wepa” (with Pitbull on the remix) a highlight is “Right Away,” a perfect melding of both Gloria and Pharrell’s strengths. “This song goes from very sweet to very nasty,” Gloria says with a laugh. The sweeping, feel-good track is described as a “disco tune that goes into a hard conga sound.” Other standouts on the album include “Hotel Nacional,” a fun, jitterbug-influenced song (reminiscent of worldwide hit “We No Speak Americano” by Yolanda Be Cool), “On” featuring Gloria’s daughter Emily Marie on an electric guitar solo (and Gloria singing in Creole) and the heartfelt ballad “Time Is Ticking Away.”
Passionate in every facet of her life, Estefan is vocal about how her infamous car accident in 1990 (while promoting her best-selling album, Cuts Both Ways)—which left her with a fractured spine and two titanium rods to stabilize her vertebral column—is a driving force in her attitude toward her health. “I’m titanium reinforced and if I don’t work out, I feel it,” she says. “If anybody jumped in my body they might feel my pain, but I ignore it. I’m in better shape than I’ve ever been.”
Through her work with the Lois Pope LIFE Center, the world’s largest and most comprehensive spinal cord injury research facility, the entrepreneur and philanthropist has revealed she and her team are close to finding the cure for paralysis (so far she’s helped raise $40 million toward the project). Together with husband Emilio she owns seven restaurants, two hotels and is a minority stake owner in the Miami Dolphins NFL franchise.
After a lifetime of achievement, what is Gloria’s ultimate dream? “I’ve sung for every audience in every nation but my own,” she says as she reminisces over her parents’ journey from Cuba to the United States when she was just 18 months old, where her grandmother snuck mango baby food and Cuban records in with their luggage and authorities ripped apart her mother’s academic certifications upon leaving the country. “I want to one day sing for a free Cuba.”
Miss Little Havana, sold as a deluxe edition through Target stores and a standard edition from iTunes, is available from September 27.