Who is Sofia Rei? A singer, songwriter and teacher whose latest album traverses Chile’s Elqui Valley
Exploring the life & work of Argentinian-born singer and university professor Sofia Rei after the release of her fifth album, Umbral.
Sofia Rei is a folk songwriter, vocalist and producer from Buenos Aires, Argentina with quite an array of accomplishments. Rei has spent time as a solo artist and collaborator, been active in the band Mycale, and recorded music with Geoffrey Keezer.
For Rei’s work on Keezer’s 2009 album Áurea, the six-time Independent Spirit Award-winning singer received a Grammy nomination for Best Latin Jazz album. Rei also received the Spirit of Folk Award from the International Folk Alliance in 2019.
Rei’s newest album, and fifth record overall, Umbral, was released on June 4. The record was preceded by the single ‘La Otra’: the album’s opening tune. The song is a tribute to a poem by Gabriela Mistral.
The core of Umbral was created on a backpacking trip across the Elqui Valley in Chile (the birthplace of Gabriela Mistral). Rei prioritized recording gear as luggage, and spent the trip collecting folk music and influences from fellow musicians encountered on the trail.
She described the Elqui Valley as “a magical place,” one encompassed in “beautifully colored mountains, clear skies 300 days out of the year, and a very particular energy.”
Inspired by Chilean poetry and songwriting, Rei utilized her influences to supplement her vision: a folk-infused, electronic soul record. Rei was also inspired by Cinco Poemas Cínicos, a poetry series from Brazil.
Many songs off Rei’s Umbral find footing in world music with moments of jazz, funk, or pop influence. Rei’s Bandcamp emphasizes her record’s fusion of folk and electronic in addition to a use of vocal loops. It also features charango played by the singer herself.
Rei’s vocals are handled with bravado, and are the confident driving-force and backbone of her work, while the instrumentation adopted by the artist is more varied; sometimes experimental.
Umbral was produced by Guadeloupe-born guitarist JC Maillard, a frequent collaborator of Rei’s.
She considers her fifth album to be, in part, avant-garde indie with contemporary Latin influences. Rei’s music is often cited as a cross between folk and futurism — an artistic ideology that highlights the dynamics of modern technology.
Rei is not only a musician; the singer teaches too. She is a professor at NYU’s Clive Davis Institute.
The Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music is a program focused on providing professional business, artistic training towards a BFA in recorded music.
At NYU, Rei created New Perspectives in Latin Music, a course focused on rhythm training and the stylistic properties of Latin American music. She is also the co-founder of El Colectivo Sur: an arts collective focused on raising public awareness of South American arts.
Rei has 20 years of teaching experience, and teaches masterclasses, clinics, and residencies. Lesson topics include vocal technique, rhythm, improvisation, songwriting, and melodic training. She obtained her Masters in Jazz Performance from the New England Conservatory in Boston.
The artist is also involved in the development of some programs for Carnegie Hall, the New York Jazz Academy, and the Berklee College of Music’s Voice and Songwriting departments.
She is currently working for Berklee Global Initiatives, and is a faculty member of the college’s itinerant program, Berklee Latino. Rei is the co-founder of Berklee’s Latin America Vive Music Festival and has taught masterclasses and seminars at institutions in the U.S., France, Spain, México, Puerto Rico, Panama, Argentina, Colombia, Perú, and Ecuador.
Some of the Rei’s most notable tracks (outside Umbral) include “Avec Le Temps,” “La Chongoyapana,” and “La Llorona”: named after the famed Venezuelan folktale.
Rei’s fifth album Umbral is out now and can be streamed on all major streaming platforms.