Music can lead you from darkness to light, like a Phoenix rising, from a life of hardship to new chapters of glorious strength. That’s the very personal message delivered on My Name is Freedom, the debut EP by French import Estelle California.
With guidance from famed producer and drummer Narada Michael Walden , the newcomer crafts five powerful songs that not only speak to her own challenging journey but call for righteousness in a world torn by divisive political climates.
As a child, Estelle’s life was darkened by oppression, and violence; her voice was silenced, but she learned early on that she could find refuge in music. She was first rescued by the piano, which she learned to play at age 5. Music continued to provide escape as she studied the saxophone and became an avid dancer, but it wasn’t until she was 26 that she found her voice, when she began formal opera training.
Her life’s path, her passion for music, the inspiration she found from frequent visits to South Africa and her eventual move to the U.S. not only set the stage for the songs she writes today, but for good works through philanthropy and volunteering as well.
As soon as she arrived in California’s Bay Area in 2013, Estelle knew she belonged there. Oakland’s energy, its diverse population and the absence of prejudice and judgment among people of so many background and cultures invigorated her, inspiring the name by which she is known today: Estelle California. “I felt more at home in Oakland than I’d ever did anywhere else, more confident and resilient than I’d ever had before. I will be forever grateful that I met you, California.”
In her new setting, Estelle has plunged herself into music with more abandon than she could ever realize in France. The strength of her new songs caught the attention of producer Walden, the former Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer who embarked on a solo career before collaborating with the likes of Mariah Carey, Aretha Franklin and Whitney Houston. The five songs on My Name is Freedom further benefit from seasoned pros like Vernon “Ice” Black, Alvon Johnson, James Henry, Troy Lampkins, and Justus Dobrin, Charles McNeal, Tony Lindsay, Larry Batiste and Cornell Carter.
Inspired by the musicianship of Nina Simone, the dream of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the invigoration of her new Oakland community, Estelle’s songs attack the widespread oppression, racism and sexism that still boil not only in the U.S. but also throughout the world.
“I speak out for those who feel they have no voice in the face of their oppressors,” says Estelle. “I wish my music to shine a light that inspires others out of the darkness, to seek the recognition they deserve and to rise above adversity.
“Just as music empowered me, I hope my songs will inspire those who feel oppressed to realize their true strengths, to find their voices and assure them that I’ll join them in their journeys to a better tomorrow.”
Thank you for taking this interview! How has the New Year been for you so far as an artist? It has been beautiful, so grateful for the life coming back after these two years of Covid . It makes everything we took for granted so precious. Can you tell us how you've transformed from the beginning to now as an artist? I think as an artist to me, means as me, it all works together, all feeding each parts of me, nothing is separated . All my journey from childhood built me to do this music and this music has been teaching me so much too when it came to me, and since then everyday. It is like this album and all the songs that come to me are the coherence in words and energy of my whole journey, they validate my doubts, show me the way too, remind me of who am I . So I got stronger, bolder, more of who am I, without apologizing anymore for my differences, I grew up thinking they were wrong, and now I own them like a super power, not searching to please anyone anymore. How did you come up with your latest project? My Last project, is my Album “My Name is Freedom”. I channeled like 50 songs 5 years ago in one month, I was on a healing journey and beginning my journey of motherhood as well, leaving my husband, and from there some of them took over the others, became life mantras for me, and when I met Narada Michael Walden my producer, it was obvious it would be these 5 songs together as a powerful statement for me and everyone listening to them. I have many other songs I want to record but these ones are like a legacy, the empowerment and the gifts that comes from the resilience when you finally can overcome your trauma, the light coming out of the darkness, and the gratitude that follows for this hardship that indeed shaped you like nothing else . Where are you from originally? I am from France, I have always been attracted to the African community in France, and in Africa, and then I moved ten years ago to California, where I have been able to blossom like a flower and heal through my music and the African American community here in Oakland. ( and also a LOT of therapy and spiritual work :) ) Where do you live now? I live in Alameda near Oakland, in the Bay area. Heaven on earth for me, after France, so grateful everyday to wake up every morning here with this beautiful Land and community. Do you think where you live impacts how your music is made? Of course, I learned so much, from the Blues community here, the women’s voice are incredible, there is a completely different culture of music and singing than where I come from where I have been trained classical piano and voice. I learned how the search for perfection is actually against the performance, and the energy comes from letting go of all the control. These women are huge on stage, and still mesmerize me every week. What was the inspiration to make music your career? I didnt really choose it, music was in me since i was a little kid, I was singing with a mic at 2 years old, then I started the piano at 5, then I studied saxophone in a Jazz school and finally I have been chosen to train as an opera singer. How do you want to shape your career? Well about this, when I bring my ego in the game with all what I want its not working, I think it's a humble process, and the universe brings me what is aligned to me when my energy matches, its a work on myself first. Also my music is not really main stream, it's also socially committed lyrics, so my desire is also to bring a change in the society with a different vision. so to answer, I gave up on shaping my career the way fame and success are usually seen. People come to me by themselves usually, I just signed a new contract to have my music in movies or commercial, I didnt expect it to me this way after two years of covid and I am very grateful. Do you work on a tight timeline always or do you go with the flow when it comes to your music? I go with the flow, but my producer was on a tight timeline, so we have been putting this album together in a month. There is a time for all, one for creativity which is slower then when it comes to record its always different . How did your latest title of your music come to be? I dont choose them, they come to me like an urge, its an evidence, a coherence falling with no doubt .. Is it hard to let go of the music when it is done? Well its hard for me to let go of the vocals, I always feel I could do better, but the music, songs are never done, they evolve with time, now I play them sometimes with an African drummer and they take such another color. Do you feel an emotional attachment with your music? Huge, I feel like they are my babies, and in the same time like your kids they you dont own them, you have to let them go, have their own life in the world. But yes huge emotional attachment .
I bark to anyone who wants to change them :) How would you describe your music in one word to someone who hasn't listened to it yet? Ah, hard question , Souful ? Where do they go to listen NOW? Everywhere, Spotify, Amazon, Itunes, Youtube….
What has been the best fan reaction to your music? The best one from far, or more moving to me, is when I saw a school in Senegal singing my song Black is The True Light, I was speechless crying, and understood the power of these words in the mouth of these kids. The pride they had singing this song is everything to me. Is there anything exciting coming up for you? I am now a bit focused on teaching music and my family life, but I am looking for a new producer to record more songs, I would like a world music album, with African musicians too. Are you performing the song anywhere LIVE? I should be performing in Las Vegas before the summer hopefully, and I have been performing here in the Bay as well. With Covid you never know how the plans are gonna turn :)
Give us all your socials and links so fans can link up with you! Thank you for this interview! www.estellecalifornia.com https://drooble.com/estellecalifornia/presskit https://medium.com/@estellecalifornia https://www.facebook.com/estellecalifornia/ https://www.instagram.com/estellecalifornia/?hl=en https://open.spotify.com/artist/4g53nwot4egpNrxyIhFLXU?si=ZGvy7kXaSNmrCxOzQXBc0A https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCguX8bajz65pWoTak_toA-Q https://twitter.com/EstelleCaliforn