If you talk to many musicians, you’ll find many of them use their music to make a difference, whether big or small, in their communities. Sharing their personal experiences, talking about sociopolitical issues, all of this can contribute to an environment where listeners begin to form a discourse around how a certain album or project works in the real world.
I’ve said this time and time again, but we are living during the rise of queer musicians, especially queer women musicians. As a listener, the stories these women share feel so close to my own personal experiences with love, queerness, and even race and gender. Charting the popularity of certain musicians is a good way to see what the public is hungry for, and queer people are driving a demand for more queer stories in music.
One musician on the rise who has created a space for women and nonbinary musicians to thrive is Fabi Reyna. Fabi plays in two bands, Reyna Tropical and Savila, and also started She Shreds, a community-driven indie media company that centers women and nonbinary guitarists and bassists, almost ten years ago.
She Shreds played a part in shaping the way media talked to and talked about women in the industry, says Reyna.
“What we did in the first five years of our existence and of my career, was make sure that change, and that marketing and that language used around women was a permanent thing,” she says. “So my focus was on offering alternative ways of speaking, and being an example of how else we can we can interview women and how we can focus on the skills and not the objectification.”
And the proof is there. Things certainly are not perfect, but media have gained more literacy around interviewing musicians who identify as women or as nonbinary. You rarely see those questions scrutinizing a woman’s ability compared to a man’s.
She Shreds, to outside eyes, looks like a project of profound love for the community as much as it comes from a love of music, and that love and appreciation is evident when talking to Fabi.
When talking with musicians, you sometimes hear that they came from musical families, with parents who taught them guitar or made them sing at family gatherings and the like. This wasn’t true for Fabi, who tells me that the most common thing she heard growing up was silence.
“I was raised by three women [her mother, aunt, and grandmother] who also worked pretty much nonstop. And so I wasn’t raised by music, but I was raised with a lot of silence. And I feel like that silence, there’s so much sound in silence, silence can be so loud, you know?” she explains.
Fabi says she sang at an early age to entertain herself, and eventually, her mother put her into a school that taught students how to play instruments, so she began playing guitar around the age of 9.
Singing was different for her, which she didn’t start until around 13. She says she never really considered herself a singer and always thought of herself as a guitarist first, and that it was her work with Reyna Tropical that really made her start to identify with singing again.
She says that singing without her guitar felt “almost painful,” and as though she were dishonoring and betraying herself. Fabi explains that part of the reason she was so resistant to singing was because it is seen as something women are assumed to do, whereas being a guitarist was a technical skill that men possessed.
The culture has shifted on that last note, and there are many women who are lauded as extremely talented guitarists, Fabi among them.
Reyna Tropical, one of Fabi’s musical projects, has never recorded a studio session in a traditional recording studio sense. For them, what’s important is to capture a moment of collaboration and emotion, what transpires between two people when you just put them in a room and let them play.
That spirit of improvisation carries their often three-hour sessions that can yield a variety of songs. Reyna Tropical also consists of Sumohair, whom Fabi met at a music festival. Fabi says this mode of creating is their favorite way to make music together, because it is a way of experiencing the communities they make music in differently.
“It’s our favorite way of writing, and let’s us travel to the communities and the land that we advocate for, and the people that we want to learn from and offer to, and, you know, let music be our offering to that land, and that people as that form of documentation,” she says.
If you listen to Reyna Tropical’s music, or have had the privilege of seeing them perform, you can feel the energy Fabi talks about radiating through it. If you follow Fabi on Instagram, she often shares videos of herself playing guitar and dancing to the music. As a listener and a viewer, you can feel the sensuality and the searching connection that transcends things like language and genre.
If you don’t speak Spanish, you can still enjoy Reyna Tropical’s music, but I feel that listening to the music makes you want to know the lyrics. And while so much gets lost in translation, it’s still good to have that curiosity around what the music you’re listening to is describing.
Reyna Tropical currently mostly plays shows in Portland or LA, but they are currently doing a mini tour across the US, so you might get a chance to see them play in a city near you very soon. If you do get lucky, know that so much goes into creating a show that is safe and respectful of other people, especially queer people, disabled people, and women.
Reyna Tropical’s official tag line is “Queer Love and Afro-Mexico,” bringing attention to two things that often aren’t paid attention to in Mexican culture, says Fabi.
“Afro-Mexico is representative of our own spectrum, Sumo is from the very south of Mexico of Guerrero. And I’m from Tamaulipas, which is the very, very north and those merging of worlds, hardly ever, if at all, come together in Mexico. We feel like it’s so important for us to come together and earn from each other and collaborate and offer this relationship to our people.”
Along with her efforts to make interviewing women and nonbinary musicians easier via She Shreds, Fabi and Sumo also strive to push venues to be more mindful about the safety of their guests and of performers. For Fabi, music inspires change, but that change also has to come from tangible efforts by venues to make sure everyone is having a good time within their walls.
This can be as easy as hiring Safe Space Monitors who intervene when they see unsavory action taking place in a bar or club. Venues should also be clear about the messaging they put out on their doors and on social media, making sure they purport an environment that prioritizes the safety of queer and disabled party-goers.
She Shreds will be celebrating ten years in October, and Fabi says she is excited to get back to focusing on the community like they did when they started ten years ago. This means there might be on the ground She Shreds events in your city, featuring musicians and artists you may be familiar with, and some new ones introduced to you.
“In my opinion, music is the tool for distributing change through culture, through messaging, through community and collective vision. Unity of differences, you know, music is the oldest form of coming together around a fire and keeping a drumbeat. I mean, music is the way that people understand one another without language. For me, music is the way that I understand the world, being able to heal myself and people being able to heal, and people understanding how to heal the world.”