@ Pigeon Island, St. Lucia Jazz Festival
9 May 2009
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Estelle Swaray was born into a strictly religious Senegalese /Grenadian
family. Being the second of eight children, Estelle learned early
about responsibility for self and family, as well as how to escape
life’s daily pressures through music. Though her mother had
banned secular music in the house, young Estelle was exposed to
African music and gospel (as well as her West Indian stepfather’s
roots reggae and dub) via an impressive homemade sound system. At
school, ‘80s pop was the dominant sound. It wasn’t long
before a teenage Estelle was sneaking out of the house to hear hip
“You don’t have to compromise yourself as an artist,”
says Estelle. “You just have to make the standard believable
While her previous successes were notable, they followed an unconventional
path. She won a 2004 MOBO for “Best Newcomer” after
she had already received “Best Female Artist” at the
UK Hip Hop Awards three years in a row. Still, she was frustrated
by what she describes as a glass ceiling in the UK urban music industry.
“A lot of UK labels don’t expect you to get beyond
a certain point.” “There’s more to life than just
taking what someone gives you.”
Estelle moved to New York on her own initiative. Her trademark
drive was also in full effect when she happened upon Kanye West
outside Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles during a fated
trip to Los Angeles. She summoned up the courage to approach the
star, and request an introduction with Legend. When the two hit
it off, she also pushed her label to let her to open for Legend
during his European Get Lifted tour, a pairing that would continue
for two years, and eventually blossom into the Homeschool deal.
Swizz Beatz produced the album’s title track. “It’s
a continuation of ‘1980’,” says Estelle, referencing
the popular 2004 single where she rapped about growing up in London.
“This is me, as plainly as I’ll be. It puts a lot
of insecurities out there, but at the same time I’m still
going to try to be me. As much as I’m giving you that strong
woman, there’s still that strong woman who is pretty vulnerable,
and that’s pretty much everybody.”
Estelle won ‘Best UK Female’ & ‘Best Song’
(American Boy) categories at the 2008 MOBO Awards ceremony.