Maile Carballo / KUTX

Lesly Reynaga Finds New Inspiration in Tradition

Artist of the Month - September, 2023


KUTX Artist of the Month is powered by PNC Bank

Her new album, Valerosa, mines the mariachi heritage

By Jeff McCord

Lesly Reynaga might have been born in Monterrey, Mexico, but it wasn’t until she moved to Texas that mariachi music really became a part of her life. 

Reynaga just released her debut album, Valerosa, an ultra-modern take on mariachi’s folkloric past. Yet she came to appreciate the legacy and the beauty of the music slowly, over time. 

Album artwork for Valerosa. Available on vinyl.

Describing her childhood, Lelsy recalls,[Mariachi] wasn’t really that prominent in a way. In my family’s case, every holiday season, we would have a mariachi group come out to our celebrations and play music. Same for weddings and any kind of special occasion.”

The passion and melodrama of the music didn’t really resonate.

I was young,” Lesly remembers, “and growing up in the nineties. You obviously gravitate to what’s cool and hip. I had an older sister [who] listened to a lot of American pop music. Christina Aguilera was literally my biggest idol when I was a little kid.”

Things would change. Her father had roots in the Rio Grande Valley, her mother was born in Monterrey. At age 16, Lesly moved in with her father in McAllen, TX, but her mother and siblings were unable to join her. In a new country, isolated from much of her family and heritage, the emotional tug of the music began its gravitational pull. 

“You leave your home behind. My mom and siblings stayed behind in Mexico and my whole family – I come from a very big family. I was moving into something very new, very different, adopting a new culture.”

Yet an old culture was about to resurface.

“I was taking an elective guitar class in high school,” Lesly recalls. “Towards the end of the class, the teacher asked me, ‘Hey, do you know how to sing? I happen to be the director of the mariachi group.’”

“Just learning about high school mariachi ensembles was mind-blowing. I just started exploring the beauty of performing this art form that I’d never taken seriously necessarily before. It’s something that is supposed to come from deep within your soul.”

“One of my biggest influences is Linda Ronstadt. When I first learned about Ronstadt, I thought she was a mariachi musician, because that’s how I first came across her music (Ronstadt released a mariachi album in 1987, Canciones de Mi Padre.) When I was in high school and I started learning mariachi classics, I came across her renditions and I thought, ‘This woman has this beautiful voice.’ I listened to that record of hers over and over. It was very powerful for me, having grown up in a pop-centric household, understanding that somebody like Linda Ronstadt had come in and opened this avenue for musicians, especially female bands to explore so many different genres. Nobody’s a one-note person. With musicians, we can convey that our passions and our interests usually don’t lie in one place. And I think that’s what I tried to do with this music.” 

It took just the right talents to fashion a what is traditionally a free, narrative-styled music into the more rigid beats of modern pop. To that end, Lesly enlisted producer Nick Clark, who has worked with Kanye West and Janelle Monae. 

“Nick brought in a team that included Nate Villegas and Andrew Schindler. Between Nick, Andrew, Nate, and I, we put our creative hats on and listened to a lot of music. I brought in my own compositions that, for the most part, were very traditional mariachi tunes. And we tried to figure out how to fit this into a more contemporary sound in a way that feels fun and exciting.”

The majority of Valerosa is sung in Spanish and brings up some very contemporary issues. “A Lo Alto” is about a subject very close to Lesly: immigration. As a child, handed off at the border between her father and mother and sisters still in Mexico, she experienced some of the difficulties families on both sides endure. Her song bristles at the use of labels like “illegals”.

“Immigration, obviously, has been around forever. It’s not new. It is something that happens around the globe. It just so happens that in the United States, we are next door to Mexico, which is the gateway to all of Latin America.”


Lesly talks with intent, deliberately. 

“There’s a lot of conflicts, worldwide conflicts. The idea that immigrants have nothing to contribute, or that immigrants bring criminality and lawlessness to the country, that rhetoric is not only absolutely wrong, but it’s also very biased. You have to be exposed to these situations to even begin to understand. Just like with anything, if you want to talk about politics, you have to be aware of both sides and you have to understand where the other person is coming from. As an immigrant myself, I’m always going to lean towards being kind and fair to what these people are going through because it’s no joke leaving your family and your roots and any kind of possibilities that you may have. Most of these immigrants who come through the border are looking for better lives for their families. I think it’s important talking about humanity as just being kind and trying to see the other side.”

Lesly is justifiably proud of Valerosa. The album’s selections nimbly skirt in and out of mariachi traditions with driving pop force. Wild enthusiasm met previews of the album both last year at ACL Fest, and this year at Lollapalooza. And there’s a full slate of dates in September, including a record release show 9/30 at the Long Center

And one more event in the planning stages.

“We are trying to bring this music to audiences across the U.S. and then hopefully, across the border to Mexico, to my hometown, Monterrey. That brings it back together. You know, the moment that I get to play this music in Monterrey, it’s just like a homecoming. And I’m sure that that’s going to be materializing very soon.”


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