Sitting in Miami’s OTL, warm peach walls, Sharon Van Etten playing loudly over the speakers. It is a typical sunny day in the Design District and it is buzzing. I am having a coffee with riela, a Miami-based Latinx avant-R&B artist known as Gaby by her loved ones. I can recognize her right away as she walks in; petite, with her distinctive style (a requirement in Miami), eyes sparkly, her delightful energy filling the space.
riela released her single “Sola” in early 2022, and her next EP, llorar y perrear has just launched: six tracks of smooth vocals and sultry rhythms including a collaboration with fellow Miami artist Marcos G.
Once she settled, we got down to business of discussing her musical ethos and dreams.
I listened to “yourplace” on the drive over on repeat. I kept feeling a Billie Eilish-dreamy atmosphere but with a trap beat. Has anyone told you that before?
No, no one has ever told me that! That’s a pretty nice comparison though.
Your latest single, “Sola”, was just released. Has it gotten easier to handle the apprehension over how the world will feel about your music? I can imagine the process must be unnerving.
Honestly it’s definitely gotten better over time! At first, I was so nervous I wouldn’t get playlisted (which is normal for a first release) and I did. People have been so kind and supportive that over time I don’t really sweat those things!
When did you know you wanted to make music? How did your family influence and support you? Any early experiences that shaped who you are today as a performer?
I’ve always wanted to be an artist. Ever since I was little I would put on shows as a kid for my family or even for myself. My family was always so incredibly supportive. They even encouraged me to go to music school for college instead of going to study pre-med.
…and you attended Berklee College of Music! What was your major?
I majored in Music Business!
How did those four years in Boston influence the music you make today, if at all?
Honestly, it helped me realize that I can’t make music I think people will like. I found a lot of my peers doing that and I learned from that. I also met my closest friends and collaborators at Berklee.
You began in the music industry at a time when social media was taking off, bringing a pseudo-online relationship between artists and fans. How do you keep that aspect of promotion from impacting your creative process? Do you have to have a public persona that differs from who you really are?
Hmm I definitely don’t share as much as people think I do. I really use those platforms as a tool. I’m not too concerned about followers or likes – obviously it comes to my mind sometimes, but it’s not a big concern so when I make music I make it for me and hope that the people that are invested in my music like it.
I have seen you say that you don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one genre but you are most influenced by R&B. For the latest single and EP coming out, is there a particular song that gave you inspiration, a time period?
I usually have song references for influence on my music, but honestly I really just look at how Bad Bunny releases music and use his musical range as an artist for inspiration especially for this project.
You have been compared to Rosalía but your music crosses so many genres. Tell me a bit about how you blend your heritage with R&B, with some of your other early inspirations of Barry White, Celia Cruz, pop.
I really use the way I speak as the main influence. Spanglish is so embedded into my daily life that it comes so naturally to me. Since I identify so heavily with my Panamanian and Cuban roots, I always make sure there are some elements of the music in each song, regardless of the genre I’m aiming for.
Collaborations. I understand you do not look at credentials beforehand for reasons you can explain but you have worked with top notch producers straight out of the gate. Let’s talk about those experiences. How do you stay true to yourself and your own vision when collaborating?
Yeah I don’t look at accolades or credentials before going in with someone because then I get into the toxic mindset of ‘if this session goes bad they’re gonna think I suck’. I always try to stay out of that mindset because that’s when I get in my own way and will agree with a sound or a suggestion solely based on the fact that they may be ‘better’ than me. I really make sure I set myself up for success and really try to speak my mind so I come out with something I love.
Who would be the ultimate collaborator and how do you dream of that experience?
I would LOVE to work with Bad Bunny. I love everything about him and his work. He is an advocate for so many communities that usually are underrepresented especially within the Latin music space. I think about being in the studio with him all the time. Making a song so weird and so different people are gonna be confused at first then be obsessed with it. I would love to have Dave Hamelin and Tainy produce the song together.
When do we get to see you live? Could that be next for you?
That’s my next short-term goal. I want to go on tour with an artist like Kali Uchis or Kehlani. That’s really how artists like me get the opportunity to grow. Capturing an audience.