Q&A with Gloria Estefan

She’s sold 70 million albums and toured the globe since her debut with Miami Sound Machine, but Gloria
Estefan has never felt closer to home. Her latest Cuban music album, 90 Millas,
proves you can take the girl out of the island, but you can’t take the island
out of the girl.

You left us hanging for four years after your last album, Unwrapped. What
have you been up to?

It took us two years to write, produce and arrange the new album. Aside from
that, I wrote two children’s books based on Noelle, my bulldog, and I was
fortunate enough that they ended up on the New York Times bestseller list. By
now, we’ve got seven restaurants and two hotels, which we’re very hands-on with,
and we’re building a third one in Vero Beach, Florida. And I took a vacation for
once, because ever since Emilio and I got married in ’78, every trip we’ve taken
has been for work. So last year, we went to Egypt, Panama, the Bahamas and Greece. It was
fantastic!

On your new album, though, you stick close to home. 90 Millas is another
Cuban music album. What makes this one special?

If you say “90 miles” to any Cuban, they’ll know exactly what it means: It’s
that stretch of water between Key West, which is the southernmost
tip of the continental United States, and Cuba. And for any Cuban who cannot go
back, it represents not just a physical distance, but a spiritual one. That’s
why in most of the songs there is the word “distancia.” The idea was to take the
nostalgia and the sounds that we started with on Mi Tierra, which was meant to
sound like it was made in a past era, and do the opposite. We moved forward to
2007, with the technological equipment we have today, and gave it a very vibrant
sound.

You’ve got a lot of great musicians on the album: Johnny Pacheco, La
India, Arturo Sandoval, Jose Feliciano, Sheila E. and Carlos Santana, to name a
few.

We wanted to show the influence Cuban music has had on musicians from all
over, so we invited 25 of the top Latin musicians in the world, and it was a
great honor they paid me. Some of them are actually inventors, like Cachao, the
Cuban bassist credited with creating mambo.

We love that your first single, “No Llores,” is about living like there’s
no tomorrow. Has that always been your philosophy?

Always. Difficulties happen and you get through them. When I say “no llores,”
it doesn’t just mean literally crying; it means looking at the bad things in
your life rather than the positive. I always think of Celia Cruz as an
inspiration. So many times I saw her backstage and her knee was killing her and
I had to help her up the steps, but she would step on that stage and nobody knew
that she was hurting.

Speaking of pain, it’s been 17 years since your terrible car accident. Any
lingering problems?

I’m in great shape considering I have hardware in my back. I work out
constantly to keep my muscles limber and my abs strong so they can take the
brunt of everything.

You left Cuba as a toddler. When was the last time you were there?

We went back once, in 1979, when President Jimmy Carter gave the opportunity
for people with family members to go. We went to help get Emilio’s only brother
and his two kids (one of whom, Lili, is La Flaca from Univision’s El Gordo y la
Flaca) out. We got them a visa through Costa Rica, but when Emilio’s brother
announced that he was leaving, (the government) started taking repressive
measures against him, so he went into hiding for two months until they were able
to leave. While we were there, Emilio and I bought them things they didn’t even
know existed, like apples and olives, from the diplotiendas (stores open only to
tourists). To this day, Lili has an olive fetish.

You must be dying to go back.

My dream is to perform in a big, celebratory concert in a free Cuba, but I
don’t think they’d even let me into the country. And if they did, I’d have to
speak against what’s going on, which the government fears. I don’t know how much
change toward democracy we’ll see as long as one of the Castro brothers is
around, but I do believe there is a future with a new leader someday. But this
leader will also love Cuba and really want to take her forward. When that day
comes, Emilio and I will be there in any way that we can be of service.

I notice that you always say “we” when you answer questions. What’s the
key to your long-lasting marriage with Emilio?

He makes me laugh like crazy. We’re still kids inside. We’re mature and
responsible when it comes to business, but we know how to have fun.

Do you get to spend quality time with your kids, Emily and Nayib?

Being a mom is my number one job. My son (Nayib, 27) lives in Los Angeles and
he has his own company where he works on music and film projects, but he calls
me every day. Emily (who is 12) is very athletic; she plays tennis and
basketball. I love going to her games. If she needs help with her homework, I’ll
sit with her. She’s also very musical—she writes poetry and plays the guitar. I
always tell both my kids, “Find what makes you happy. The money will come
regardless of what you do, and more or less of it is not going to be what makes
you happy. Spending hours at something you enjoy will.”

Do you ever cook for them?

I make the best pancakes you’ll ever have! And I claim that title gladly. On
Saturdays I make them for everybody.

Last question: mojitos—plain or flavored?

I like them in their natural state. They’re like nuclear lemonades!

—Angie Romero

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