Photo by Todd V. Wolfson

Lesly Reynaga learned her first song at age four in Monterrey, México and was tapped for a national Mexican television reality show as a singing talent at age 14. Today, she is creating a buzz as a rising singer-songwriter in Austin, Texas.

Reynaga, who is releasing her first studio recording, “Fool’s Paradise,” took her first bow in the U.S. as an award-winning mariachi vocalist in McAllen, Texas before captivating audiences as a featured soloist of the University of Texas Mariachi Paredes de Tejastitlán. On the stages of Austin’s club circuit, she is noted for her passion-filled showmanship, an extraordinary vocal range, a bilingual song catalogue—quelled from a unique knowledge of pop, rock, Tejano and mariachi music—and as a multi-instrumentalist on guitar, vihuela and keyboards. Her music influences range from the rock goddess trinity of Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt and Stevie Nicks to traditional influences from Latin America such as Rocío Dúrcal and Lola Beltrán.

Following a role as lead actor in the 2012 ZACH Theatre/Teatro Vivo musical, “Mariachi Girl,” Reynaga began work on her own compositions, studying Bob Dylan’s canon in particular. She is launching a promising musical career with her debut EP, which includes four original songs and a cover of “Spanish Words” by renowned Austin musician Charlie Sexton.

UT mariachi

“Fool’s Paradise” presents an elegant and subtle combination of Reynaga’s Latin roots and pop-rock sensibilities. Though a novice at songcrafting, she already shows remarkable dexterity moving from powerful ballads to rhythmic tunes with sing-along hooks. Reynaga’s lyrics are meditations on the sweetness of solitude, being guided by music on a trip with no return, and giving generously of oneself in the face of adversity — all with a voice and style that resembles the introspective sides of Latina superstars Shakira and Soraya.

“The title of the EP refers to people existing in the ‘happy bubble’ of life and not accepting that there are challenges we must ultimately face,” said Reynaga. “Likewise, I’m discovering that as issues arise in the world, significant music is being made. I’m realizing that there is more to life beyond the goal of my personal happiness, my comfort zone: that there can’t be light if there isn’t darkness.”

That duality is evident throughout her work and it is well illustrated in “Still Can’t,” which begins as an upbeat, cheery and almost theatrical composition that is followed by a chorus offering a sobering hit of reality.

“Lesly’s music is new and fresh sounding,” said Michael Ramos, producer of “Fool’s Paradise.” “Being her first major recording project, there is a beautiful naivety to it. I sensed in Lesly a deep and sincere desire to pursue and succeed in a career in music. I choose to surround myself with people that are serious about their art and craft. She fit that criteria.”

41202_10150240544825514_4874575_n

In Mexican culture, where many families are defined by matriarchy, the grandmother is often a strong influence. Reynaga’s upbringing is a good example of that. Those family roots can be heard throughout “Fools’ Paradise,” back to her childhood when her grandmother was the first to help discover her musical talent.

“My grandma taught me so much and was the one to teach me my first song, a traditional Mexican polka called ‘Atotonilco’ that she took from an old songbook.”

Though Reynaga is hoping her pop sound will be successful, she has not lost track of her musical roots. Perhaps the most evident but still discreet sign of that influence can be heard in “Silent Film.” In the tune, she flaunts a falsetto and croons long notes that explode in the kind of soprano vocals that you would hear in many classic rancheras, joined by melancholic trumpet.

“I can hear the influences of Lesly’s current surroundings in her day-to-day living: pop, the hits of today, so to speak,” said Ramos, an Austin musician who has recorded with The Rembrandts and John Mellencamp. “But I can also hear her roots and the music of her youth growing up in Mexico. The goal of this EP was to incorporate all of those influences. I feel like we succeeded in that.”

That eclectic musical adventure is clear when she talks about her musical influences, including her citing Linda Ronstadt as her main role model in the industry. Besides sharing the same name initials, Ronstadt’s history as a singer who excelled in different genres appeals to Reynaga to such a degree that she hopes to model her career. After listening to her music and reading her autobiography, Reynaga concluded that being Latina doesn’t dictate that she must sing in Spanish.

IMG_4267

“I knew Linda Ronstadt as a mariachi singer,” she said. “She grew up listening to Mexican music thanks to her father, but when she started a musical career, she played country-folk and then folk-rock with a band, and she made it big. That was before she released her ‘Canciones de mi Padre’ mariachi album. I began singing songs from that album without knowing that she was a rock star.”

To jump start her musical career, Reynaga is doing a similar crossover but in the opposite direction. She is transforming from mariachi girl to pop-rock artist.

The ultimate marriage of her two inclinations surfaces in her covering of Sexton’s “Spanish Words.” Reynaga’s evocative piece is agile and fresh, accompanied by a key chorus in Spanish.

“The beautiful narrative of ‘Spanish Words’ tells a very personal story by one of Austin’s musical treasures,” Reynaga continued. “Charlie’s  vivid imagery echoes our regional Latin heritage and naturally led me to include a Spanish version of the chorus.”

Reynaga’s implicit mission now is to represent the Hispanic community in an American music scene that is undergoing a demographic change mirroring the country’s population. The Austin-based artist seems well on her way.