Nakia Reynoso is a versatile and beloved Austin musician with a magical voice. He was a Top 8 Semifinalist on CeeLo’s team during the first season of ‘The Voice’ on NBC. Nakia’s ofrenda is packed with intensity and meaning, and we asked him to share some of his thoughts about the piece, the process, and his dad who passed away on this date, October 25th, 2009. Join us live for the finale of our ofrendas project on Thursday, October 29th at 7PM CDT, RSVP Online here. Free, donations accepted.


My dad’s parents were indigenous people from Mexico with roots from before there was a Mexico. Dad kept his heritage separate from our lives for his own reasons. So there’s been a real disconnect between me and that heritage and culture. That’s had some pretty negative effects on me long-term. I’ve done a lot of work through therapy and other approaches, but I don’t think it has fully resolved itself. I don’t think it ever will, until I’m able to find some connection on my own.

Exploring these connections has been something I’ve wanted to do. So it was really good timing for me to make this ofrenda. It was an honor for me to be asked, and a real pleasure to take part in the project.

Through the work I’ve done, I became friends with a Lakota Indian. He invited me to do a Vision Quest a few years ago, after several experiences together in a sweat lodge. I had no idea how musical sweat lodge ceremonies are, with all the chanting and drumming. After our first sweat lodge experience he pulled me aside and said “I don’t know you that well, but I want you to know I’ve been doing this for a very long time, and you have some connection to this process that I don’t think even you understand.” So in my ofrenda I knew I wanted to include chanting, and that’s one of the first things you hear, and one of the last things you hear, too.

I have my own altar with pictures of my family, my husband, some friends, Prince, John Aielli, all these people that I look up to and respect. A friend’s mother gave me a prayer cloth, it’s up there too next to some items from my Vision Quest. My dad is there, along with all these elephants because dad was a huge University of Alabama football fan, and their mascot is an elephant.

Originally my ofrenda was going to be mostly chanting and drumming, but once I sat down in this space, I knew I wanted to include an elephant in some way. The first elephant trumpet sound is right after the first drum fill, and it signals my birth. And you’ll see right after that is a picture of me. The last one is shortly before he died. We’re at a restaurant, there’s a picture of him looking away, and then another with him looking right at the camera with his Alabama hat, and you can see on his face he looks a little confused. I wanted the elephant to herald his exit as well.

I started going through photos of dad on my computer. My memories seem to revolve around music, like watching him thumping the steering wheel in time with the radio. He really loved the groove of music. So I wanted to add some groove to it, and that’s where the drums on top of the congas came in.

Dad wasn’t really into synth music, but I added synth anyway. I felt I was not only paying tribute to him, but also to the way that he inspired me. I wanted to put the things I was feeling into the piece. There is this darkness around our relationship. I don’t know that it will ever go away, and I’m okay with that. But that’s the low synth moaning you hear throughout.

The actual melody follows a clear timeline through 2009, of my dad looking really healthy, and then quickly declining, especially after he got his cancer diagnosis in July. Even though the piece is short, I wanted to have his beginning, his middle, and his end. So that’s why the melody switches as soon as you get into the cancer diagnosis, it gets confusing, and kind of scary, and I wanted to throw the listener off balance, because that’s how my life was.

There’s a photo of dad lighting a cigarette right in front of the “no smoking” sign in the cancer ward at the VA. He smoked all the way until the day he died. And it is, of course, the reason for his death.

There were moments in my childhood when dad was not a pleasant person to be around. One of the things I discovered through my work, was distinct memories of wanting to connect with my father, but feeling like he cared more about his cigarettes than he cared about me. I can now recall an intense feeling of jealousy at watching him light a cigarette. They were almost a way of getting out of talking to me. I would be trying to get his attention, and he’d light a cigarette. In his worst moments, those cigarettes turned into weapons.

I’ve come to terms with that. Dad and I had really long talks before he died. The forgiveness part is done. But it was really important to me to let those things live in the music. You hear them in the rumbling, and the pitch-bending. The level of imbalance and confusion of those last few months was so high. That was the only thing I could think to do to represent it.

I truly believe the inspiration that drives us to create, can’t be held. You can’t really touch and hold music, especially live music, and I think that makes it even more sacred. It is spiritual energy from within being amplified and transferred to the audience. That to me is not only fascinating, but it’s also powerful, because everybody receives it in a different way. You know it’s happened when somebody comes up to you after a show, or writes to you, and says you moved them to tears. One of my favorite things that happened when I was on The Voice, was a lot of young gay folks would reach out to me on social media and tell me that seeing my husband and I on television in a completely normalized way helped them to come out to their family. One of the most powerful letters was from a soldier, who was actively deployed in Afghanistan, who came out to the rest of his platoon. These things resulted from seeing our relationship normalized, but also because I was given that platform because of my talent. So I think that as artists we can never discount, nor fully understand, just how powerful an impact we have on people, even people that we’ll never meet.

I think in our nation we’ve let our ego run the show. So many people have fallen under this spell that by taking just the right selfie, or having the perfect life on social media, that’s going to move them forward in life. And while there can be some benefits, what it steals is the real connection. There’s a misconception that all of our power is in the keyboard or in the phone. And none of that is true. My hope is that soon we’ll move away from vanity, and move more toward talking to each other, to being together.

The process of making this ofrenda was very powerful for me. Even talking about it, sharing it with friends, there are many times I find myself crying, and grieving again. And I think as a society, especially in America, we’re taught that grieving happens for a short period of time and then you’re supposed to move on. Other societies don’t do that, especially in Mexican culture, where the tradition is to continually honor and revisit that grief, so that you can change it into forgiveness and celebration and love.