By Rosy Cordero
August 12, 2020 at 03:28 PM EDT
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Gloria Estefan has a new album dropping Thursday, and the vibrant, samba-flavored Brazil305 will transport listeners not only to the South American country, but also to the past.

The 18-track Sony Music Latin release — Estefan's first in seven years — features 14 reimagined versions of her classic songs, including a new rendition of her hit "Mi Tierra," a song dedicated to her native Cuba and to immigrants the world over coping with departing from their homeland.

For many Cuban Americans born in the United States, "Mi Tierra" is a personal anthem too. It represents what the Germans call fernweh, which translates to farsickness (the opposite of homesickness), and the longing for a place they've never been to but are connected to — such as by DNA and by endless conversations with relatives about the beautiful Caribbean island from their past that will never be the same.

Above, EW is exclusively debuting the new version of "Mi Tierra." Below, Estefan speaks about her new album, her enduring voice, her upcoming Facebook Watch series, and more.

Heather Beltran for Sony Music Latin

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It's been seven years since you released new music. Why the long delay?

GLORIA ESTEFAN: The release of this album went through extensive delays for different reasons. It had been recorded in 2016 and was originally supposed to be released in 2017. My mom had already heard all the tracks and was in love with the record, [but] she suddenly became ill and passed after 33 days in the hospital. I feel so blessed to have been able to spend those days with her, and it breaks my heart seeing all the people who have lost loved ones during the pandemic who were not able to do the same. A few months [after her death] I tried to go into the studio to put down some vocals, and I couldn't sing. It would take more than a year for me to feel strong enough to bring the joy out of me that was intended for this record. I think it's time we allow some joy and a little celebration into our lives, wherever we may be right now. I think that's my job as a musician to provide. It was music that helped me get through some of my toughest times.

A lot of your biggest hits have been refreshed for 2020 and given a Brazilian twist. What was it like to revisit the vault, and how did you pick which songs you wanted for this album?

Some were no-brainers, like "Conga" and "Rhythm is Gonna Get You," because I've performed samba versions of those songs live in the past. We tried to mix it up and choose songs from different decades that we know people love. Like the arrangements on "Mi Tierra" are incredible! When I went to Brazil and I heard these musicians and what they had done, I was beside myself. It was really exciting to go there to add my vocals. Some, like "Coming Out of the Dark," we tried to make it work, but with this song in particular, its gospel feel and the spirituality behind it didn't feel the same when adding sensual bossa nova, nor with samba. I did not want to force things to work. With the other songs, they just naturally worked.

Speaking of "Mi Tierra," we'll be debuting your new version a day before your album drops. Why do you think this song is so special to so many?

With this song, we wanted to capture the music of Cuba B.C. — before Castro — when music was free, like in the '40s. I knew this music deeply because I learned to play to sing for my grandmother and my mother. [My husband] Emilio [Estefan] and I were already writing music for [Mi Tierra], we had finished "Por los Años," which is the first song we did together, when one day this Colombian musician, Estefano Salgado, who kept showing up at the studio, finally caught Emilio's attention. Estefano told [Emilio] he wants to work with him, so Emilio invites him inside to play some music.

In conversation, Emilio tells Estefano about an idea he had for a song about how much he misses his homeland that he wants to title "Mi Tierra." He explained that he wanted to talk about the longing experienced by immigrants for the smells, the sights, and the feelings of nostalgia for their countries. If you listen to the beginning of the song, it starts with a Colombian rhythm before switching to salsa. That's intentional and serves to unite the immigrant experience. It was also intentional that we didn't mention any specific country in the song because we wanted it to belong to anyone that is missing their homeland. I have traveled the world on tour and have been approached by Latinos and non-Latinos that love the song because of what it represents. Some confessed to learning Spanish because of that album. If that's not the biggest compliment ever, I don't know what is.

After nearly two decades in this industry, your voice remains as powerful as it did from back when you were part of the Miami Sound Machine. How do you do it?

Listen, I work on my chops! I probably have way more vocal control now than when I recorded those original albums because I didn't start taking voice lessons until I could afford it. By then, I was already married and had my son [Nayib Estefan]. I knew that I wanted to do this for a long time, so it was important to sharpen my tools. I had to break a lot of bad habits while getting voice lessons because I had been singing since I could talk. When you sing emotionally, you don't necessarily use the best technique if you don't know it. Whether I'm in the public eye or not, I've continued to hone my skills.

Courtesy Sony Music Latin

You have a new series coming out in October called Red Table Talk: The Estefans for Facebook Watch. What can fans expect?

We're going to be talking about all the hard stuff. We're starting with eight shows, so narrowing down topics is hard because there are so many we want to talk about. The way we are shooting it is as two hours of unfiltered conversation between myself, my daughter Emily [Estefan], my niece Lily [Estefan], and a variety of guests. Fans can expect to see me with a gavel to keep the table under control because having three Cubanas talking, you can expect things to get out of control. Each of us is bringing a different and diverse view to the conversation. I'm very excited about this project.

On Jada Pinkett-Smith's Red Table Talk, she recently brought her husband, Will Smith, to the table. Will you bring Emilio to the table too?

You will see Emilio at the table! So expect to see subtitles for when he visits! [Laughs] Emilio is at the center of our lives, and there's no way we wouldn't have him on. But I can't tell you anymore, you'll have to wait and see what other surprises we have in store.

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