Reyna Tropical on Malegría: A Bittersweet Musical Journey

Reyna Tropical by Devyn Galindo

Fabiola Reyna discusses her new album Malegría—a celebration of intuition, transition, connection, and spiritual survival with themes of queer love, feminine sensuality, and intentional relations to the earth. The album blends Congolese, Peruvian, and Colombian rhythms with influences from artists like Chavela Vargas. The title “Malegría” merges the Spanish words for “bad” (mal) and “happiness” (alegría), expressing a bittersweet essence. It reflects Reyna’s personal journey, especially after transitioning from a duo with Nectali ‘Sumohair’ Diaz to a solo project due to Diaz’s passing.

Reyna Tropical began in 2016 between Reyna and Diaz, evolving from an exchange at a workshop series to releasing a well-received self-titled EP in 2018. Reyna’s retreat to nature in 2020 led to a deeper realization of her life’s purpose and a two-year immersion in tropical music and culture. Fabiola Reyna now continues her work with “The Tropical Collective / La Colectiva Tropical,” focusing on uplifting the tropical diaspora culture and fostering spaces for Black, Indigenous, and Queer joy.

KALTBLUT: Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind your new album ‘Malegría’?

It’s an album that explores dualities revolving around grief and love. Inspired by connection to land and how that translates to self love and pleasure. It’s inspired by the innovation and collaboration of Afro and Afro-Indigenous innovation and paying respect to those origins. It’s about investigating the confines of mestizaje and identities that keep us in a cycle of trauma, violence, and divisiveness—primarily against our darker sinned relatives/ancestors/self. It’s about moving your body to keep all of those questions and curiosities moving so that they stop being buried and stagnant within ourselves. 

KALTBLUT: How has your background as the founder of She Shreds Media influenced your music and the direction of Reyna Tropical as a project?

She Shreds Media and Reyna Tropical aren’t really that different. They are extensions of one another in that they are both created to carve out space for conversations that are happening but are difficult to digest. My job is to be a bridge—I never really understand exactly how but I follow what I’m being pulled towards and often I see gaps wherever it pertains to the pleasure and joy of Black and Indigenous people, especially women, queer, and trans folks. Through She Shreds I want to show that women guitarists have always existed, and more specifically that Black women guitarists are founders of music from the United states. Through Reyna Tropical I want to host space for diasporic beings to belong, and reconnect with themselves through their ancestral wisdom and love of the land. I want to acknowledge and respect the African and Indigenous origins that have been stolen by european settlers. And I want to be in/host spaces where all of our multiplicities as mixed, diasporic beings can exist. The music of Reyna Tropical has always been created as a chance for us to feel deep within ourselves and remember.

KALTBLUT: Could you share with us the significance of blending Congolese, Peruvian, and Colombian rhythms in your music, and how these influences have shaped ‘Malegría’?

My guitar style is directly influenced by Congolese Soukous, Cumbia Amazonica or Cumbia Andina (Peru) alongside a history of playing punk, classical guitar, and just experimenting with my own expression through the instrument. Many of the sounds, beats, and cultural homages in Malegría come from Colombia—specifically in the coastal areas surrounding the Mendihuaca and Magdalena rivers. What all of these genres have in common is that their origins frame movement, sounds, and the relationship to the land as a means of documenting and distributing African and/or Indigenous resistance to colonization. Eventually these rhythms became a form of dance, widespread and experienced as joy throughout the world. But even today, I understand this music to exist for the purpose of moving pain and darkness into light as a means of survival. 

KALTBLUT: The press release mentions that ‘Malegría’ is a celebration of spiritual survival. How did this concept come to life in the creation of the album, and how do you hope listeners will connect with this message?

In acknowledging our spirit(s) we push ourselves towards survival—living, breathing with rhythm, intention and movement. I use the word “push” because in my case it wasn’t really  something that I volunteered myself for but something that opened up in my body and did move me into seeing myself, my surroundings, the ancestors in a different light. Surprisingly, doing so forced me to face a lot of things that, in order to stay connected to my spirit, I had to let go of or learn to undo. I think what it is is relearning to be present. Being so present that you remember the taste and smell of the moment. That’s what I learned to do in the years leading up to the release of this album. Once I began to realize and utilize all my senses, I became privy to the narrowness of our cultures. I began to ask myself questions you’re “not supposed to,” and  began to understand communities as waves in the ocean. My hope is that listeners connect. I believe that the connection will lead folks to where they need to go. Expanding my capacity to live with that duality of pain and joy  is my goal for anything I do.

Reyna Tropical by Devyn Galindo
Reyna Tropical by Devyn Galindo

KALTBLUT: Your lead single ‘Cartagena’ has received praise for its unique sound and lyrical depth. Can you walk us through the creative process behind this track and what it means to you personally?

Like most of the songs on this album, Cartagena was written in a 4 hour improvisation session during a trip to Colombia. One of my favorite places in Colombia is Cartagena for its historic significance and culturally, its relationship to one of my favorite musical genres, Champeta. When traveling to perform I prioritize spending time with other musicians, and artists that are upholding and uplifting culture in their birthplaces. Through these connections I get to learn about the real history of these tropical, caribbean coastal cities and the cultural response to the transatlantic slave trade. The port of Cartagena was one of the first places that people from West Africa arrived after being stolen from their land to be forced into slavery by the Spaniards. About an hour inland from Cartagena is San Basilio de Palenque—the first town in the Americas that was granted freedom and amnesty by European powers in 1714. Like any song I write, i try to be present with the culmination of my experiences as they are arriving in the moment, often not having much of an idea what I’m writing about but finding the melody and letting the words, guitars, synths, bass flow with it. It wasn’t until I visited my friend Franklin Tejedor, whom I co wrote “Suavecito with,” a year later in San Basilio de Palenque that he told me stories about the ways the plants, moon, and elements guided people into this resistance. I realized then that Cartagena was tapping into those memories that the land and the people held, while also channeling the other side of the city’s fast moving, hard working production lifestyle and sending a prayer for us all to move towards the medicine the land holds for us without fear of what that might mean.

KALTBLUT: Can you tell us more about ‘The Tropical Collective / La Colectiva Tropical’ and the role it plays in uplifting the culture of the tropical diaspora? How has this collective impacted your music-making process and your overall vision for Reyna Tropical?

I’ve always felt like Reyna Tropical is the culmination of so many and so much that, as diasporic beings, we might not have words for but can understand and express through music and art. The collective are artists, Djs, producers, fans, and even industry members that are committed to working with music for a bigger purpose. People from across the spectrum investigating the tropical diaspora. 

KALTBLUT: Looking ahead, what are your hopes and aspirations for the release of ‘Malegría’ and the future of Reyna Tropical as a solo project?

I simply want the music to reach people and help us all connect and be present. I want to be ready for wherever and whatever the album brings and takes me. And although I am alone in some senses, I’ve also never felt so dedicated and involved in community, so I look forward to strengthening that with the release of Malegría. 

Photos by @devyngalindo

Malegría is out now via Psychic Hotline