Fabi Reyna and Nectali Díaz, better known as Sumohair, met as alumni of the 2016 RBMA Bass Camp, hosted at Bonnaroo Festival in Manchester, Tennessee. Reyna was selected from Portland, while Sumohair was one of three emerging artists showcasing the evergreen Los Angeles talent pool. On the first day, after introductions and some light showcasing, the pair began drifting towards each other, bonding over their passion for Latin American sounds and activism. Drinks, laughter, and an impromptu studio session followed, which included fellow RBMA alum Happy Colors, from the Dominican Republic. With Sumohair on beats, Reyna on guitar and vocals, and contemplative bars from Happy Colors, the result was a fiery lo-fi trip to the Caribbean and back called “Revolución,” as well as a 6 a.m. bedtime.
The next day, Bass Camp activities proceeded as usual, but the chemistry in the room had become undeniable, and the West Coast pair vowed to link up again when Reyna visited L.A. on business. Over the coming months, Reyna and Sumohair recorded a series of 4-hour improvisations that were later edited and compiled into Reyna Tropical’s self-titled debut EP, released in January 2018.
“We said from the very beginning we didn’t want to put pressure on it,” says Reyna, outlining the band’s core creative principles. “We want to do this because it’s fun. We have no intention of being in the studio for 20 days recording one song. We’re going to put out songs whenever and however we want. This is going to be on our terms.”
Fabi Reyna was born in Cancún, Mexico, and raised on the McAllen-Reynosa border – later calling Austin and Portland home as well. The gifted musician picked up the guitar at age 9, starting her first band by 10, booking her first show by 15, and organizing her first music festival when she was 18. Shred Fest convened 15 bands from across the Pacific-Northwest, specifically highlighting women thriving in a plethora of musical genres and raising funds for Reyna’s most ambitious brainchild to date.
“I experienced the whole ‘girls don’t play guitar’ thing and when I turned 18 I decided to start She Shreds magazine, which is about women guitarists and bassists,” she explains, sharing her own shredding journey from classical guitar, to punk, and cumbia. “Through that, I’ve learned a lot about the perspectives of people who’ve been silenced or never been asked about their music. We’ve always existed but opportunities for visibility only started coming up recently, especially for women, queers and non-binary folks.”
Alongside publications like Tom Tom Magazine, which spotlights women drummers and percussionists, She Shreds has become an essential voice within a democratizing artistic wave propelled by creatives hungry for media representation. In order to overcome stagnant gatekeeping, Reyna has feverishly honed her guitar and songwriting skills while remaining vigilant of her own unfolding narrative. “When I met Sumo,” she adds, “we blended our worlds of music and activism, where I focus on queer identity and being a Mexican woman living in America. It’s always at the forefront because if it’s not, people are going to assume something about me.”
“We are pushing this really cool [agenda] we call Queer Love and Afro-Mexico,” beams Sumohair, concisely summing up the band’s ethos of visibility and space-making. “For me, being from Guerrero and seeing Afro-Mexicans counted for the first time in the 2020 census, it’s kind of ridiculous that an entire group of people was unaccounted for.”
A perfect example of these intersections can be found in the video for Reyna Tropical’s latest single, “No Me Quieres,” which stars Afro-Mexican actor Diana Díaz, and follows a tumultuous romance between two young women. Sumohair’s conscientious work is also nothing new, extending back to 2013 when he co-founded Los Angeles-based collective Metralleta De Oro alongside DJs Fuego and FONDO. The crew now holds a residency at popular cumbia dance party Dinamita, where they’ve become local leaders within a scene centering cumbia and other afro-diasporic rhythms as a tool of social resistance, which includes La Santa Cecilia, Quitapenas and the Cumbiatón Collective.