reyna tropical
Devyn Galindo

Reyna Tropical’s Malegría is a documentary of love and strength

Welcome to AP&R, where we highlight rising artists who will soon become your new favorite. 

Reyna Tropical are founded on love, creativity, and a desire to venture into the unknown. For years, the duo of Fabi Reyna and Nectali “Sumohair” Diaz, better known as Sumo, made music that sounded as rich and transportive as the tropical diaspora that inspired their name. Movement is ingrained within the songs, as Reyna spent her coming-of-age years shuffling between Mexico, Texas, and Oregon. “The movement of the buses and the trains and the cars, that’s what formed me,” Reyna shares from her home in Mexico City, where she’s living part time.

To give yourself over to that motion is to accept the unpredictability and impermanence of life. When Sumo passed away at the age of 42 in July 2022, she vowed to continue Reyna Tropical as a way to honor the immense legacy that her “musical soulmate” left behind. That’s best heard on Reyna Tropical’s debut album, Malegría, which pieces together parts of her journey with Sumo as well as her own path to self-discovery, including unlocking her singing voice. The songs are vibrant, offering an immersive alchemy of club beats, drifty guitar riffs, and psychedelic cumbia that’s inherently rhythmic and wholly alive.

Read more: For El Perro del Mar, music is the only salvation

Malegría is also populated by interludes, which Reyna added to make the record mirror a documentary, that allows listeners to step inside the collaborative barter between Sumo and Reyna — and all the joy that unfolded when they made music together. It was important to Reyna for people to hear the ebb and flow of their relationship — as well as their mission to uplift culture and identity — but always based on friendship and feeling. While the interludes lay bare their own stories, though, there’s always more to be discovered. Growth, survival, and purpose travel through its many songs, but, like any great album, you must be willing to let go and listen to truly engage.

What is the story behind your first guitar, and who are some of the players that inspired you to pick it up?

I was just having this conversation with people because I feel like only recently am I consciously inviting influences. I think that since I was little, as far as I can remember — which my mom tells me is in first grade. I picked up a guitar during a music class — I wanted to play that. Then I had a little toy guitar that I just danced around with until I had my real first guitar when I was 9 and started going into camps because I’m an only child from a single mom, so she would just put me in everything so she could work, but the influences that I was being offered in that time weren’t ones that I chose. I learned how to play Jimi Hendrix and “Johnny B. Goode” and the classics, but that didn’t keep me in — that only gave me a chance to enter the world of electric guitar, and I don’t think that I can name any handful of guitarists that really formed me.

I play so many different styles of music, from classical guitar to writing on acoustic guitar and being in punk bands and playing West African soukous and chicha from Peru. I would say that more recently, my influences have formed to become folks that play in West Africa, in the Congo, soukous, champeta, chicha, Peruvian cumbia, and those folks are mimicking bird sounds and a lot of nature sounds. I think that I mainly was just trying to get the sounds in my brain out into something, so a lot of silence as an only child, and I would guess the silence is my first musical influence.

I remember seeing you write that the band would continue after Sumo’s death as a way to celebrate his vision. When did the album begin to take shape?

The story that the album tells wouldn’t have been able to be told without the grief of my bandmate passing. So, it tells this really interesting arc and stories weaving together from July of 2020 until May of 2023. I wrote on my own and then brought some of those songs to Sumo, and Sumo put the beat. Then we were completing them throughout the years into so many different journeys. I also started to detach from just me and him collaborating and started to make my own music with a friend of mine named Nay. It’s from so many different worlds, and I think that all of those songs have been growing since July of 2020.

I loved the inclusion of the interludes and how they provided a glimpse into the creative process — hearing you work things out or feel elation over certain moments. What made you decide to include those pieces of dialogue?

Well, I knew that I wanted it to feel like a documentary. Found sounds and nature sounds have always been a really big part of me and Sumo’s collaboration but in my own writing, too, since I was 16. It helps me remember what’s happened in my life, but also listening to those interludes brings back memories that I had forgotten even today. So I think part of it was a conscious decision to create this documentary piece. Another part of it was just an intuitive pull toward [these] sounds that I had collected over the seven years of Reyna Tropical, being a band, but also over the last four years of my own growth and really becoming the person that I am today. There’s a few different stories going on in that album, and the interludes are telling a couple.

Was it haunting to hear Sumo’s voice again or more joyous?

I was laughing most of the time. A very odd thing that I didn’t expect is that no part of remembering him or hearing him or looking at him feels haunting. I laugh more than anything when I remember him. Listening to those Voice Memos really helped me remember how much he loved me. It’s almost embarrassing because we would never say that in real life. I almost feel shy about it, but it’s like, “Wow, that fool really liked me.” [Laughs.]

During one of the interludes, you expressed that you’re “anti-singing” but now see its purpose. What is that purpose to you?

You have to imagine that I have hundreds of recordings, and the way that I usually work is that I tend to procrastinate a lot until the very last minute. I pretty much had 24 hours to go through all of them. I listened to all of them, but also these all just jumped at me, and to me, they tell the story perfectly. I couldn’t imagine any other interludes. So that particular part of the album, it’s the beginning of what becomes Reyna Tropical’s purpose, and it’s the beginning of what really opens the door for Sumo and I, and myself as an individual and Sumo as an individual, to start to open ourselves up to the unknown, to the beyond of what we don’t know, of just acknowledging that it’s vast out there and committing to being guided by that and following that, but in a way that we haven’t been taught before.

So for us, that means making sure that we are integrating and in reciprocity with the land and with the community, and letting the doors open as we ensure that we’re committed to those things. Finding my voice is a part of trusting myself, and for me, finding my voice and just letting the words come and letting the sounds come and letting my communication [come], whether that’s in silence or verbally, is what that interlude means to me. From then on out, it was a different band; it was a different experience; it was a different purpose. It was clear that the purposes help people let go of the fear of their own voice because that’s the only thing stopping us from living.

Were you doing any singing exercises, or did it just come out of you?

I probably will always struggle with considering myself a singer. It’s definitely a tool for me, and I’m excited to keep learning it. I will take singing lessons at some point, but I’ve never taken singing lessons. But one thing that did happen that was really interesting, I think it was in the year 2022, was that suddenly I just started to hum. I would wake up humming every day, and I just hummed all day for a year, so that was helping me. That parallel to everything else that was happening in life, I think the river within my body started to flow and was opening up my vocal cords, and that’s what vibration does — it connects you. It connects all your parts. I understand myself, my internal body, and my external body so much more now that I allow myself to sing.

It’s such a scary thing.

Yeah, it really is. I’m still scared of it, don’t get me wrong. I have a long way to go, but I’m definitely grateful for the opportunity to start here. 

Reyna Tropical appear in our Spring 2024 Issue with cover stars Liam Gallagher/John Squire, Kevin Abstract, the Marías, and Palaye Royale. Head to the AP Shop to grab a copy.