Lester Rey makes music he calls the “Reinvention of Latin Soul.” His music, lyrics, and general aesthetic draw on everything from Reggaeton to Rumba, Chillout to Hip Hop, anime to fashion. His heroes include salsa legend Hector Lavoe and the politically outspoken rap duo Calle 13.
As part of our Summer Music series, Rey joins us to talk about everything from his upbringing in the Pentecostal Church to his groundbreaking video with trans rapper Lila Star.
“I was 5 years old when I started playing congas in the church,” Rey said. “They had a child-sized conga that nobody would play. I went up there during the services, and they would hand me this little conga. Eventually, the youth that were in charge of the music got older, so me and my friends, when we were about 10 to 12, then we took over.”
Rey’s music often explores discrimination, sexism, and other social justice issues. He recently collaborated with trans rapper Lila Star on “Ni Santa,” making her the first “video vixen” in a reggaeton video.
His group, Dolor Folktronico, will perform at the Square Roots Festival in Lincoln Square on July 14th.
Below are some highlights from Rey’s Morning Shift interview with Tony Sarabia.
On breaking out and listening to secular music
I had older sisters. And they were listening to freestyle. And Tupac and Biggie and House Music as well. And I was super intrigued by it. So while at home, my mom would play salsa music while she was cooking or cleaning, and my dad loved his oldies music…I was coming up with my own musical taste and my own musical identity.
On tackling sexism in reggaeton music through ‘Ni Santa’
(Lila Star) told me she always wanted to be in a reggaeton song. I told her I was working on a reggaeton song, and the message was to switch the norm you hear in popular reggaeton music. It’s very misogynistic, it’s (often) very vulgar and just disrespectful (to women). And so I wanted to write a reggaeton song that did that. Lila Star said that she wanted to be a “video vixen” of a reggaeton song to actually push the norm even further and declare that trans women were also beautiful women that could be video vixens….and the video is an interaction between me and her because that’s what the song’s about. The song’s about approaching a woman in the correct way on the dance floor, and there’s a lot of sensuality.
On college changing his thinking about the world
My concerns became overarching society, better American society concerns—better treatment of Puerto Rican people. I started to learn why certain groups were cast to the side—why second-class citizens existed.
The message was to switch the norm that you hear in popular Reggaeton music. It’s very misogynistic. The rhythms call to our bodies and spirits, but the lyrics don’t always uphold women.
This interview has been edited and condensed for brevity.
Char Daston contributed to this report.
LEARN MORE: Lester Rey finally has it—for now