Failure is part of life, part of the path to success. That is what I wish I would have been told, that failure is something to be embraced, not something to be scared of. That there is no shame but pride attached to failure, because when you are scared to fail, you just don’t try, which is the only way to be sure you will go nowhere. I have been held back by the fear of failure for a long time, like a big jail, and it is still holding me sometimes.
As part of my series featuring the rising stars in the music industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Estelle California. Estelle is a singer/songwriter born in France. She started playing the piano when she was 5 years old and went on to study saxophone. Later, she became an avid dancer and was formally trained in opera. In 2013, Estelle moved to Oakland, CA, where she felt drawn to the diverse and respectful community. Her love for the state of California and its people led her to change her artist name. As a musician, Estelle draws inspiration from artists like Nina Simone. Estelle speaks out for those who have lost their voice to their oppressors. Through her music, she aims to be a shining light that inspires others to quit the darkness and find the courage to rise up in the face of adversity, overcome their fears, and achieve their dreams.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I believe that all throughout my life, each event brought me here to stand up with my music, with these lyrics. Sometimes the road is not straight like mine, and I have wondered why a lot. But now it’s so very coherent, and actually since always, I knew, even when I was 18 months I was singing with a mic in diapers. There were long periods of time in my life that I would forget about my calling, in times of adversity, but it would always come back stronger than before.
Can you share the most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your music career?
I had many. By example each time I would try to knock on a door, pushed by somebody to do it because I am naturally self-deprecating and would be sure it would not work. But each time I tried, I would be received right away with big success by everybody. For example, when I was 26, I was a musician and had trained in classical piano since I was 5 years old. I had also trained in jazz saxophone, but had never sung seriously, it was not something doable in my imprinting. But a friend of mine told me I had a natural singing voice and that I should train in opera. My friend told me to go see Janine Reiss, coach of Maria Callas, directly; she was an old French opera coach known to be very selective. Well, I went at 26 years old with no voice training ever, sang Addio del Passato, an aria from La Traviata that I knew by ear, and she asked me to train with her to become a professional opera singer.
I had the same experience with saxophone. I was 22, I’d had two months of saxophone class only, and another friend of mine told me I should audition for a professional jazz school. I went there, sure I would not pass, and they kept me right away. I could keep on with stories this way for a while 🙂
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am working on new songs and also on a performance project that will come with the release of the EP after Christmas. And I am going to put an amazing band together with musicians from Africa as well. Actually one day, I wish I could tour in Africa and also make videos with African musicians, sharing the talent of the beautiful local artists there.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
I am a bit weird in a way; I usually run away from the fame world. I am very down to earth, and feel good with people who are too. So actually for me the most interesting people I am interacting with here is the black community in the Bay, Africans and African-Americans. I learn from them all, I am fed by their amazing energy and resilience. There is also a beautiful community of artists here. David Bruce Graves created my cover art for my upcoming EP, My Name is Freedom, and TheArthur Wright allowed me to use his painting as my cover art for my upcoming single, “Black is the True Light.” Collaborating with these artists, having their visual on my music, sharing our own light on a project this way, is such a happiness.
One of the most beautiful human beings here — who is actually an amazing spiritual teacher even if he doesn’t know it :) — and godfather in the community is Geoffrey Pete. He has two big spaces for venues in Oakland, supports the music scene a lot, and organizes big events where we all volunteer to feed the homeless for each holiday. He explains to us how we have to be grateful to serve them, and thank them for this opportunity, because giving is what feels good . . . I mean, how beautiful is that ?
Which people in history inspire you the most? Why?
Well, African and African American leaders in every way, those who have kept inspiring peace even through adversity and racism as they all experience in our world. Nelson Mandela, what a life and what a tribute for the whole world . . . what an example of resilience and forgiveness.
Martin Luther King Jr., of course too, and Nina Simone in another way. These people are victims of racism and oppression that would stand up for their people and inspire, give, lead with grace. Barack Obama is a huge monument for the whole world, I think people don’t realize the big picture enough. That it’s not just about what he did or didn’t do as President. It’s about having an African American president in America, probably the most watched country of the world, a country that also had suffered so much with slavery, and how his presidency is a huge step for the whole world and for all black kids wherever they are on the planet. It is the dream of MLK unfolding.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Well, I would not say that I did yet, but I will — this is what keeps me forward and up for sure. I am here to move the needle somewhere somehow in the collective subconscious about diversity and about the freedom to be who you are, speak your truth, and shine your light. I think prejudices are jails for our world, our minds and culture, and the way to lock us all in misery. There is no way to be happy if you don’t feel free to be who you are with all your differences. Your differences should be welcomed and celebrated, they are your gift. And this racial injustice has been leading the world for way too long, it is my first calling.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I am already calling a movement with the energy and the people I am putting together with my music. The Facebook page where we are more than 10k now is called the Soul Family, the one of the heart, the one that knows no color, no prejudice, but freedom. I hope we will keep growing and spreading light and energy with these songs of freedom to empower as many as we can.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Well, I am not sure I can give any advice to thrive the way they expect. For me, it is always about going back to spiritual teaching, which has nothing to do with thriving in the industry, but with thriving more in your journey.
Nothing works for me if I am not connected spiritually. It is the key to every door for me, or I collapse like I’m missing my spine. I have been through a lot and if I forget the big picture, I go back into old patterns.
I can not thrive long term without this connection, and God knows I wish I could just have a straight, easy road to success, but it’s not for me. I’ve accepted it now, I need to stay in my calling, in my purpose, and as unattached to the outcome as I can.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Actually I think people told me more than 5 things to know when I first started, and I don’t know for you, but for me, I don’t hear until I make my own mistakes . . . and sometimes even more than once.
- Hire a lawyer to read your contract. It seems obvious, right? But I chose to trust, and well, I hope I learned this one by now. But the truth is, I don’t think I have regrets, I learned and I’m still learning. There is a mantra I like, it says: it is not happening to you but for you. I have been repeating this one a lot. I don’t think I would do anything differently if I had to do it again. I think it is like with your kids, it is not about forbidding them to do things, but accompanying them where they want to go and being with them in their mistakes and when they fail.
- Failure is part of life, part of the path to success. That is what I wish I would have been told, that failure is something to be embraced, not something to be scared of. That there is no shame but pride attached to failure, because when you are scared to fail, you just don’t try, which is the only way to be sure you will go nowhere. I have been held back by the fear of failure for a long time, like a big jail, and it is still holding me sometimes.
- That nobody does things just to be kind without an interest in the industry, because it’s my nature to think and hope that people would do things because they love me. Well, it is not always the case 🙂
- That you can fight for what you want and not feel guilty about it. Because it is always easy when you begin, to not know your rights, and have people tell you what to do and say. Now I know I will speak my truth, even if it will not please all, I will create my own sound even if it might not be liked by as many people. I understood, at least for me, that if I compromise, I lose myself and I have nothing to give anymore . . .
- That it will take some time for you to get to where you want to be. I am always impatient and always burning to move forward every day in a hundred different directions. I know where I am going and where I want to go, but actually there are always many people involved, each having their own speed and calendar. Rome was not built in one day 🙂 I am still learning this one though . . .
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
Oh, there are many. Everybody who stands up for the same kind of things as me, who shares the same kind of calling. We are here to work together, and be heard with a bigger voice all united. It is a movement. I would love to meet Cornell William Brooks who was formerly the president of NAACP, for example, and Derrick Johnson, the current president. I would like to be involved with real activists, freedom, and civil rights advocates. And Oprah of course 🙂
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