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Miami-based musician riela's new EP 'Llorar y Perrear' is a big 2022 mood

The artist riela, whose new album <em>Llorar y Perrear</em> is releasing March 11, 2022.
Sandy Rivera
Courtesy of the artist
The artist riela, whose new album Llorar y Perrear is releasing March 11, 2022.

The Panamanian-Cuban singer riela has one very effective way of working through sadness and heartbreak, both macro (pandemic) and micro (long-shot romance): perreo, the grinding dance that, accompanied by reggaeton, has been booming out of the Caribbean for decades.

Ahead of the release of her new EP, Llorar y Perrear, on March 11, riela spoke to NPR's Adrian Florido about gaining confidence through perreo, channeling tarot in her songwriting and tracing her musical influences to her upbringing in Miami.

This interview has been edited and condensed. To hear the broadcast version of this story, use the audio player at the top of this page.

On finding solace in perreo

"Usually when I'm going through emotions, especially sad ones, I like to distract myself. My favorite way to do it is really just like, dance with my cousins and dance with my friends. What I would say [is] the thing that really helps me shake it off is perreando.

"I feel like it's not so technical, and it's very much about feeling the music and just letting your body move. Before the pandemic, I was always like, 'I'm such a bad dancer. I don't know how to perrear. What's wrong with me?' And you know, I had the time to practice and learn and gain confidence. With perreo, I think, comes confidence."

On writing the song "If you let me"

"'If you let me' talks about how you're giving so much to a person and they're not necessarily allowing you into their space – and they love you, but there's really just these walls around [them]. It really just talks about just giving up on trying with that person because you've offered so much and they haven't taken anything. You have to take a step back and have some self-respect, accept it for what it is and move on."

On the symbolism behind her trilogy of tarot-themed EP's, with "Llorar y Perrear" emanating the card for The Star

"A tarot deck is the fool's journey, so it starts at The Fool and the deck goes all the way towards the end: The Magician. So The Fool represents somebody that's wide-eyed and bushy-tailed and very optimistic. For me, it's like somebody that's open to many things, especially when it comes to romantic relationships. The Star represents a person that's able to separate the emotions, like the heart and the head. You can feel the emotions, but you won't let it get in the way of your ultimate goal, slash you won't let it turn you into a hard or cold person, regardless of how people receive your care and your love."

On how the song "pluton" embodies the tarot theme

"[This] is [an example] of where I was like, 'You know what? I'm not okay with the way this person's treating me, but I am going to retreat and just focus on myself and kind of go on my little planet and be a little reckless.' So my friend Angela Rodriguez, she's a really close collaborator. She's written a lot of the songs with me. I was telling her, 'Dude, I wish I could just put myself in a little spaceship and ship myself off to Pluto.' And she's like, 'That's a song seed.'

"We got to sit down with Dave Hamelin, who's the producer of the song – he's an actual genius. We told them the concept and he's like, 'I love it. We're thinking weird. We're thinking different. We're thinking very left.' And I'm like, 'Yes.'

"He picks up a vinyl and he puts it on his record player and he's like, 'Do you like these drums?' and I was like, 'Yeah, they're sick.' He records them, he isolates them in the session, and those are the drums you hear in the song."

On how growing up bilingual and first-gen in Miami shaped her musical influences

"I talk about this with my friends all the time – in Miami, we don't really speak Spanish and we don't really speak English. It's just Spanglish. That's how I grew up speaking with my parents, speaking with my grandma. That's just the way we speak over there.

"I always use influences of reggaeton in my music, and hot take: reggaeton was made in Panama. You know, people are going to say it's Puerto Rico. But if you look at the history, most people say, I say – it's Panamanian.

"But then I remember that any time that we were driving to Miami Beach to go to the beach – me, my mom, my brother, my sister – my mom would always turn on the radio station Power 96, and they would play Ashanti and Ja Rule and J.Lo, and those are the influences that also come from my background."

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Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.