Emilio Estefan Interview
By: Nelson A Garcia
Emilio Estefan is one of those celebrities in the music industry that is not only well-known in our South Florida area but throughout the whole world. Mr. Estefan not only manages music artists but also produces and directs musical videos, movies and documentaries while being an author and songwriter as well. His company also manages restaurants and hotels. Where does he find all this energy? 55+ Magazine is proud to interview him for our readers.
55+ You were born in Santiago de Cuba. How did your life begin in the United States?
EE I was a child who became a man at 15 years of age when I realized that I could not live in a communist country and decided to leave without my mother. I came to the United States with two important things in mind; to contribute and to do something for this country that gave us a helping hand, never forgetting where I was born or where my traditions came from. That is a beautiful thing; one can move to another place and contribute greatly and at the same time, be thankful that you still can be the person you are and not lose your identity.
55+ How did Miami Sound Machine start in 1977?
EE I was trying to find a way to make more money so I could bring my mother here from Cuba. I worked for Bacardi but I did not earn enough to save money. I started to play music in restaurants on the weekends for tips. One day, the Bacardi family contracted me to play in one of their private homes and they asked me to bring other musicians. The people were very emotional with the Cuban music that I played, since, at that time, everything was very closed in Cuba and the music was very different there.
55+ You are one of the most successful producers in the music industry. What quality do you think is most important in the success of a producer?
EE To be a producer is like being a good tailor. You look at the person, you analyze what they are doing and you create something that fits them well. It is extremely important that they have their own sound. When I produced Shakira or Jennifer Lopez or Madonna or Ricky Martin or Gloria Estefan or Jon Secada, I always changed the sound. Many producers create only one sound and then everybody sounds the same. I think that is one of the secrets of being a producer. It’s like a Doctor prescribing medicine that is correct for that one particular person. I did what I thought was the right thing and the honest thing. I was doing unique sounds, always maintaining my Latin roots.
55+ You have established the career of many celebrities in our community. What artist impressed you the most with their creativity?
EE The one that I always wanted to produce, and it was my dream, was Celia Cruz. I not only produced for her but also wrote for her and worked on her first video. I loved that Celia had no age. I am a very spiritual person and I believe in karma, so what you start the right way always ends the right way. I love that she was a very optimistic woman and very professional. For me she was ageless. She went on stage and it was like she was a 15-year-old girl.
55+ We, in South Florida, are very proud of your 42 Grammy nominations and your 19 Grammys. How did it feel to receive your fi rst Grammy?
EE You can imagine that the fi rst one for me had a great impact! When I arrived from Cuba, I always said that one day I was going to buy a ticket to go to the Grammys. Ten years later, I was nominated for Producer of the Year. For me, it was a surreal experience to be sitting there looking at everything that was going on. I understood that there was a ‘secret’ in this country. I realized that this is a great country and you have unlimited opportunity. If you work hard and contribute with honesty, you can achieve whatever dreams you can dream!
55+ Many of us have enjoyed eating and drinking at one of your restaurants, ‘Larios on the Beach’ or ’Bongos Cuban Café.’ Where did your interest in this type of business come from?
EE At the time when we were very popular in the whole world, everyone wanted to come and interview Gloria. They also wanted to go to Ocean Drive, which was very popular at the time, to eat Cuban food. We used to go to a place called ‘Don Larios.’ They cooked very delicious, typical Cuban cuisine, but it was not on the beach. Gloria always dreamed of having a restaurant on the beach. We bought a building with a restaurant on the first floor and when we finished remodeling the building, we asked them if they wanted to come in with us. It was the first Cuban restaurant on Ocean Drive. It has been 27 years now and it continues to be full all the time. We cook the Cuban food a little bit healthier. Instead of frying things, we bake them.
55+ I’m sure you are very proud of the success of your Broadway Show, ‘On Your Feet’, about your life and that of your wife, Gloria. How did this project start?
EE It was very important for us, at this time, to tell the story of two immigrants who left their country and how we contributed to this new country, as well as show what we have accomplished. What I love about ‘On Your Feet,’ (this is why I used this title), is that in life, one finds many stumbling blocks, and when you fall, you have to stand up and start over. This happened to us when we left our country. We had a unique sound, but we had no one to help us who believed in that sound. Then, years later, on our World Tour, with all this fame and lots of number one songs, we had the accident. We realized that we had to start over. When people realize that it’s our story, many different types of people want to come and see the show. People see and realize the struggles that we have had to overcome to bring our sound to the world and they see the love that we have for this country. In 2017, we will start a World Tour and a United States Tour.
55+ Can you share with our readers your feelings when you received, along with your wife, Gloria, the Presidential Medal of Liberty in November, 2015 from President Barack Obama?
EE When that medal is being hung around your neck, all your life flashes before your eyes. You look at what you have been able to accomplish and what you fought for. I would've liked to had my Mother and my Father with me at that moment. They had always supported me. This medal represents many people and minorities with dreams in the United States. We believe that the Latin community can contribute many beautiful things to this country. When I received the medal, I was thinking that I could not cry in front of all these people but when everything ended, my tears just poured out of me… you would not believe. They were tears of pain from missing my parents but also happiness and joy for achieving this. It was special receiving it from an African American president; a minority. I can imagine that he had the same feelings because he was very emotional.
55+ Before we go, can you tell us if you are working on any projects in the future that you can share with us?
EE We are expanding ‘Estefan Kitchen Express’ in 2017, but still with Latin roots. We want to celebrate our culture. I also have many projects that have to do with movies, a project with HBO in English, and many records that I am working on at this time. I continue to work and enjoy my family. I am enjoying the success of ‘On Your Feet.’ I think this achievement is not only mine and Gloria's but also of our community and of all the minorities in the United States of America. •