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Get to Know Spotify EQUAL Ambassadors Silvana Estrada and Manal

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In 2021, Spotify launched a first-of-its-kind initiative, EQUAL, to shine a light on and amplify the careers of women in music across the globe. EQUAL encompasses over 180 countries such as Pakistan and Morocco as well as various genres like regional Mexican, Hip-Hop, and Pop. 

The fourth installment of Worldwide Women highlights two incredible artists, Silvana Estrada and Manal, representing Mexico and Morocco respectively. Billboard spoke with both EQUAL ambassadors about their careers, the challenges women face in the industry, and what it means to represent their country on a global scale through Spotify’s EQUAL program. 

Silvana Estrada is one of the leaders of a new wave in Latin Alternative music over the last few years. Being raised by musicians re-affirmed Estrada’s dreams of becoming a star and provided a support system that most aspiring artists don’t have from their families. The Mexican singer-songwriter grew up singing Mexican choir music and was schooled in jazz. Estrada released her debut project, Lo Sagrado, in 2017 which was created in collaboration with guitarist Charlie Hunter. Hunter’s background includes work with icons including Frank Ocean, D’Angelo, and Norah Jones. After the release of her debut, Estrada took a few years to develop her sound and create the world she wanted her music to exist in. After a five year hiatus, she returned in 2022 with her new full-length album, Marchita, and most recently an EP, Abrazo. Estrada’s prolific return to music earned her two Latin GRAMMY nominations along with a spot on Billboard’s Latin Artist on the Rise list and placement on Spotify’s EQUAL global playlist. 

Tell us about growing up in Mexico.

I grew up in the countryside. My village is a small coffee plantation, but I really love it there. It’s beautiful. Being a young girl in Mexico is never easy, but my parents are musicians so that helped me a lot. My dad is a double bass player and my mom is a clarinet player. They also build instruments like violas, cellos, and violins. Growing up around music played a big part in my development as a young woman. 

How did you start recording music? What were those early experiences like? 

When I first started to record music, I was so nervous about being judged by my friends and family. I would quietly record in my room hoping that my parents wouldn’t hear my songs. Once I met Charlie Hunter, he really believed in me and my music. He taught me so much and helped me professionally record my first few songs. He flew from New York to my parent’s house in Mexico and we turned their guest house into a recording studio. We recorded my first album Lo Sagrado there and it felt like musical college for me. I learned so much about production, vocal arrangements, and recording. 

If you could give one message to the music industry on how to better support gender equity, what would it be? 

It’s important for the industry to create spaces like EQUAL that celebrate women, but women also have to support each other. It is everybody’s responsibility right now to create these spaces for women to feel free and connect. 

Who are some of the women who have contributed to your journey as an artist? 

First of all, my mother, but also Natalia Lafourcade. She is one of my favorite artists and I am so grateful for the time I spent singing background vocals on her tour. A few weeks ago I performed on the Kelly Clarkson show and I couldn’t believe that she was such a big fan of mine. Her makeup artist showed her my music and Kelly went crazy for it. She even covered one of my songs during her concert. I cherish the connections I have made with such amazing women throughout my journey as an artist. 

What is one piece of advice you can give to the next generation of women in music? 

I always wish that people told me to trust in my gut and instincts. Everything you need to create music comes from within. Move with genuine love and always follow your heart with no fear. Mistakes will always happen along the way, but all the truth you need to keep going is already in you. 

Who are 3 of your favorite women in music? 

Adrianne Lenker, ROSALIA, and Laura Itandehui. 

What can we expect from Silvana Estrada in the future? 

I have a huge show here in Mexico at my favorite venue soon and I haven’t played in Mexico in 2 years. I was worried about how I would be received at home, but the show quickly sold out. I’m putting a lot of energy into the live show and my next album right now. 

Manal is the first-ever Arab ambassador of the Spotify EQUAL program. Hailing from Morocco, the singer-songwriter has been chasing her dreams for over a decade. Early in her career, Manal had to balance her music passion with academics. In 2015, she released her first single, “Denia,” which earned her the Best Female Artist in North Africa at the Africa Music Award. After bouncing around between labels for a few years, Manal found a home in Sony Music Middle East where she released her first viral single “Taj”, taking the Arabic music scene by storm. In 2021, she released a full-length project, 360, which features standout tracks like “Niya,” “Call Me,” and “Baka Baka.” She has amassed over 450,000 monthly listeners on Spotify and recently released her EQUAL featured track “Makhelaw magalou.” She is currently featured on the cover of Spotify’s EQUAL global playlist and we can’t wait to see what’s next for Manal.

Tell us about growing up in Morocco. How has your country influenced the music you make? 

I think growing up in Morocco was incredibly nourishing. We are in a country where we are inspired a lot from the Eastern world, Western world, and Europe. We’ve always been influenced by music from different regions in the world, but ultimately we understand many languages. We speak French, English, Spanish, and more. Growing up here made it easier to understand music from all over the world. As a kid, I was a big fan of superstars like Rihanna and Beyoncé, but as I started to get older I wanted to learn more about Moroccan music and culture. We have about seven  regional genres that have deeply inspired who I am today. 

How did you start recording music? What were those early experiences like? 

I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was a child. At 7 or 8 I told everyone I wanted to be a singer and some people made fun of me, but my family was super supportive. I started singing covers and sharing those on YouTube to gain traction. 

You are Spotify EQUAL’s Moroccan representative. How does it feel to represent your country on a global stage? 

It’s such an honor for me. I started in music years ago, but at every step of the journey I’ve been blessed to gain new fans and opportunities. I still can’t comprehend the impact of my songs or how people feel, but it is such an honor to be recognized. I manifested this and always saw myself on the cover of this amazing playlist! 

Last year you released your album 360. Tell us about the journey it was creating that body of work?

We worked on this album for two whole years and I really had to advocate for myself while creating this project. I had to prove a lot of things to myself because for a few years I was only releasing singles and music videos. I was so happy when it was released and to see how it was received by the fans. A year after the release, a lot has changed for me personally and with my vision as an artist. Arab women have been working so hard and it is our time to change the game. The next album is going to be fire and I’m so excited about that one, too! 

You recently released a beautiful collaborative track, “Zina” with Slimane. How did that come about? 

Slimane is an artist that I love and respect a lot. We created this song together but when we met, he told me that he wanted me to be on his album. We live in the same city in Morocco, but working with such a talented artist is easy. We wanted to create a song about a couple in a long-distance relationship, navigating the challenges that come along with that. 

Who are some of the women who have contributed to your journey as an artist? 

My mom. She is a very strong person that I have a lot of respect for. She played the role of the mother, father, sister, friend, and everything. When I lost my father, she was so strong. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without her. 

What is one piece of advice you can give to the next generation of women in music? 

You are worth it and you can do anything you put your mind to. Don’t let the industry pressure you into doing anything you don’t want to. 

Who are 3 of your favorite women in music? 

ROSALÍA, Haja El Hamdaouia, Oum Kalthoum, and Warda.

What can we expect from Manal in the future?

My new album next year! I really want to focus on music right now. I just finished touring, but I can’t wait to share this new universe I’m creating for my fans. 

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