Don’t expect any wicked guitar solos or Latin rock rhythms from Carlos Santana’s middle child. Stella’s got velvety chords and soulful storytelling that tap into human emotions — heartache and self-discovery — without the trajectory of her life experiences on wax cut crystal clear. Her music, also not readily distinguishable, dances between R&B and alternative (á la The Weeknd). Yet, performing is undoubtedly in her blood — literally. The flower child’s knack for singing derives not only from her beloved father, but from both her grandfathers who were famous Mariachi and Jazz players, respectively.
After a rigorous spell in academia, where Stella studied intercultural communication and personal development at Pepperdine University, all the universe conspired in helping her realize her true purpose. It was when she was urged to sing a cappella at a school workshop that the stars aligned and inspired a bright-eyed Stella to finally embark on her musical journey. The singer strapped on her boots and uprooted from her native San Francisco to live in the concrete jungle of New York City.
Stella, who cites Lauryn Hill, Nelly Furtado, and Missy Elliott as musical influences, has since self-released two dreamy singles (“Friends” and “Switch”), connecting with instrumental producers in the Big Apple to appear in her full-length LP, Selfish. The formal debut, laden with gorgeous vocals and sublime production, is scheduled to drop this September.
Get to know more about the Santana legacy, who’s on the rise and fated for greatness. — Marjua Estevez (@_msestevez)
VIBE Viva: What were you doing before you began to seriously pursue music?
Stella: Bullsh*tting. [Laughs] Just kidding! I was really into personal development. I was taking a lot of classes and seminars on personal development, and geared toward self-help. I was trying to figure out if that was the way that I was going to help people out, because that’s what I’ve always wanted to do. But the universe was telling me something else. That wasn’t the way. This is the way.
Yes, through music.
Describe the wave of emotions you felt after releasing your first two singles?
When I finally released “Friends” and “Switch,” I released them right away with visuals. That was pretty exciting.
Were you nervous at all?
No. I was just really excited. It felt like everything was coming from a real place. I felt like this is what I was supposed to be doing, so I never really questioned it.
And what was the feedback like?
It was great. When I put “Friends” out, I got a lot of good feedback from Pigeons and Planes, who premiered it. Soon, they started playing “Friends” in the UK at BBC 1, which was really really cool. With “Switch,” when it finally came out, it was also great. Everyone received it really well. Everyone loved the way it looked, and they loved the song. After that, I got hooked up with Frankie, who I did “Fumes” with.
Right. “Fumes” is your next single. Talk a little bit about working with Frankie P. How did you two meet and what was it like collaborating with him?
He hit me up on Instagram, actually. He told me that he had some beats he thought would really work for me. So I thought ‘cool’ and gave him my manager’s email. He sent me some stuff and right away I liked the first one, which ended up being “Fumes.” The next week, we were in the studio. I wrote down the words right then and there, with no real idea of what I was going to talk about beforehand. But that music, that beat had a certain feeling, so I went with it.
And you’re working on a proper debut?
Yes. The title of my album is Selfish, which people can expect this fall.
That’s pretty soon.
Yea, but it’s going to be great!
What was it like growing up in your household?
I don’t really know anything else. I can’t say it was different, because it’s all I know. To me, it seemed pretty normal with school and whatnot. If we went on tour with my dad, we went in the summer, so we didn’t have to miss classes. I would go to shows in the Bay area, in L.A. sometimes. But yea, I went to school, played sports, did tryouts. I did all the monotonous stuff that everyone else does.
Carlos is a very spiritual man, especially on wax. Would you say the same about yourself?
Definitely, my parents are both pretty spiritual. We began meditating at a very young age. Obviously, I hated it. I thought it was stupid, I wanted to go play instead. I thought, ‘What am I lighting this candle for?’ [Laughs] But, they’ve always been very connected and acted with, what I call, grace. Even if they had their own opinions or view points, they still acted with a certain respect and grace, which I try to emulate as much as possible.
What’s the greatest lesson you’ve learned being the daughter of a legendary guitarist?
I don’t know for sure if there’s a lesson, I just feel really grateful to have the head on my shoulders that I have. I feel like my parents are very grateful to have the three kids that they have. We’re very grounded, not too crazy or reckless. We’re very respectful of other people and we love to give back. I’m just glad I’m me and not some other idiot who might be blowing money and doing drugs, that was never really me.
What’s the most reckless thing you’ve done?
Oh, God. I mean when I was in college I did some dumb things, some really irresponsible things. But –– driving when I wasn’t supposed to drive? [Laughs] I don’t really do anything too crazy.
Your mom, Deborah Santana, is also a huge influence…
In her book, she talks about first experiencing racism at a young age. Did you ever find yourself in that same situation?
Yes, actually. I was really young and lived in an all-white neighborhood, outside of San Francisco. I went to my neighbor’s birthday party. I was young, but she was a little younger. I can’t remember how old she was exactly. Maybe four or five and I was like six or seven. But we were just playing around when some kid came by and said, ‘Why did you invite a black girl?’ And I distinctly remember thinking ‘Am I black?’ That was my initial thought. I was really young, so I didn’t understand anything about identity yet. My mom says that I came home crying, which I don’t remember. The only thing I do remember is hearing it, experiencing it, but I can’t recall how I reacted. There’s been more, but that’s the earliest and probably most significant.
That’s pretty powerful, having to bring identity into question at such a young age, especially considering you have a multi-ethnic makeup. Do you ever find yourself having to explain who you are or where you come from?
I get it all the time — ‘what are you?’ I’m human, is what I am. I don’t feel the need to explain anything. If I have to educate someone, then I will. But it doesn’t matter if I can speak Spanish fluently or not, if people think I’m not in tuned with my black side or not, the percentage of blood in my body will never change. At the end of the day, what experiences I’ve had don’t make me more or less of what I am.
You’re a gorgeous girl, are you afraid of being reduced to just another pretty face?
I’m ok with that. I like it like that. Then no one expects anything and I’m given the opportunity to show and prove.
What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I want to empower women to express themselves, to do what they feel they want and need to do, and to do it without permission. I’ve always taken it as a compliment whenever men said to me that I was selfish. Like, yea, I am. In order for me to give someone my very best, I have to first be my very best. I don’t think that I should have to apologize for that.