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The Road to 'Destiny' : Gloria Estefan Taps Into Own Growth for Latest Album

July 15, 1996|ELYSA GARDNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

NEW YORK — It's tempting to call Gloria Estefan the comeback kid, even though she's never really gone away.

Six years ago, the Cuban American superstar recovered with lightning speed from serious injuries sustained in a bus accident, enabling her to release her second solo album, "Into the Light," in early 1991. An elaborately choreographed tour followed soon after, even as Estefan, 38, was still undergoing therapy and learning to function with metal rods inserted in her back.

Since then, Estefan has put out a series of albums, including greatest-hits, Christmas and two Spanish-language collections. But before "Destiny" was released June 4, it had been five years--a lifetime in the pop music world--since Estefan had a new English-language album of original material.

The reason it took so long was another momentous event in the singer's life, but this time a fortunate one: the 1994 birth of Estefan's second child, a daughter named Emily.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday July 17, 1996 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 12 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Forum phone--A story in Monday's Calendar on singer Gloria Estefan included the wrong area code for the Forum, where she will perform Aug. 8-9. The number is (310) 419-3100.

Taking a break after taping a promotional interview for an upcoming HBO concert (to be broadcast Sept. 21) and before having lunch with Emily, Estefan slips into an empty room in Manhattan's Sony Music Studios, slides onto a couch and begins casually discussing the road to "Destiny," which has sold an estimated 181,000 copies so far.

"With an album of new material, you have to tour, and obviously, I didn't wanna tour [pregnant]," says Estefan, explaining her absence from the road.

Estefan's experiences as a mom--she and her husband-manager-producer Emilio also have a 16-year-old son, Nayib--were a major source of inspiration in writing the songs for "Destiny," as was her personal growth in general over the past several years.

"The themes I explored were different, more mature, than on ['Into the Light']," she says. "The new album celebrates love in its many forms--maternal, physical, spiritual. I think it represents five years of living and evolving as a woman, and as a mother."

In fact, young Emily herself makes her debut recording appearance on "Destiny." Estefan had written a song in her daughter's honor, "Along Came You (A Song for Emily)," and the singer wanted to have her child in her arms while recording. Candles had been lighted around the studio, and the baby, mistaking the proceedings for a birthday party, started repeating, "Happy, happy. . . ." Consequently, the youngest Estefan landed her first rapping credit.

Both kids are accompanying Estefan on her current tour, which includes Aug. 8-9 dates at the Forum and an Aug. 13 show at the Pond of Anaheim. "It's tough having to raise them in this fishbowl," she says. "But I take them everywhere. I have to. What I do isn't a job, it's my life, and they have to be a part of it. They'll be gone soon enough. Too soon."

Returning to English-language pop forms, though, does not mean that Estefan has moved away from the cultural roots she honored on the two Spanish-language albums, with "Mi Tierra" featuring appearances by top Cuban music figures. In addition to lush ballads, "Destiny" includes densely percussive tracks featuring a wide variety of indigenous rhythms--among them Afro Cuban, Colombian and Jamaican--played exclusively on hand instruments.

That sound is also prominent on the album's final track, "Reach"--co-written with noted American pop meister Diane Warren--which was chosen as the theme song for the Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

Elements of global multiculturalism have been at the core of the music since Estefan and her husband met in the mid-'70s, when he was keyboardist for a wedding band called the Miami Latin Boys. After Estefan joined as lead vocalist, the group changed its name to Miami Sound Machine and in 1979 began releasing Spanish-language albums on CBS Records' Hispanic label. By 1984, the band was recording for Epic Records--then also a division of CBS, now part of Sony Music. The following year, it released "Primitive Love," the first of two immensely popular English-language LPs that paved the way for the singer's successful solo career.

More than 10 years after Miami Sound Machine's breakthrough, the international pop music market is arguably more receptive than ever to the Latin and world music accents so prominent on "Destiny."

Still, Estefan's husband and professional partner insists that they both continue to be guided purely by artistic instinct.

"Back when we did 'Conga' [Miami Sound Machine's first Top 10 hit, from 1986], people thought we were crazy," Emilio says in a separate phone interview. "They said, 'My God, radio will never play this.' But it was our sound, as immigrants who had kept our roots from Cuba but had grown up listening to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. I think for us, the first priority is always honesty. You can never think in commercial terms. You have to let the people decide."

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