Nectali ‘Sumo Hair’ Diaz, Los Angeles-based tropical music visionary and Afro-Mexico activist, has died tragically at 42.

Nectali ‘Sumo Hair’ Diaz, Los Angeles-based tropical music visionary and Afro-Mexico activist, has died tragically at 42.

In the early morning of July 30, birdsong echoing through the swaying palm trees of the concrete jungle known as Los Angeles was somber as friends, fans and family awoke to the devastating news that prolific, self-taught Afro-diasporic DJ Nectali “Sumohair” Diaz has left this country.

He was tragically killed in an e-scooter accident in downtown Los Angeles. His longtime friend and fellow DJ, Diego Guerrero, confirmed his death. Nectali was a beloved son, brother, uncle, friend, collaborator, artist, educator and an inspiration to many who crossed paths with him and experienced his bold spirit. He was the embodiment of the cultural revolution and a multifaceted man.

He is survived by his mother Magdalena Duran Galarza and father Laurentino Diaz Salvador and his “musical soul mate” Fabi Rayna, the other half of his nascent musical project, Reina Tropical.

Born in the La Costa Chica region of Guerrero on November 16, 1979, Diaz used his DIY approach to music production, graphic visuals and video design to uplift the marginalized Afro-Mexican community of his native country. He dreamed of one day publishing a book about this underrepresented area in Mexico.

Nectali’s endless passion for tropical culture lives on countless clues he produced in the last decade of his career and for his own band. His untimely death is felt far and wide, from his hometown of Long Beach, where he grew up, to the tropical music scene of Latin America, a tight-knit community that revered him for his ability to create innovative, highly catchy rhythms interweaving the atmospheric sounds of chirping birds and Afro-indigenous instruments.

Nectali’s band gained an international following after touring the country with Colombian megastars Bomba Estereo last year, and opening for Monsieur Perine at The Ford Theater in Hollywood on Sunday, July 24, 2022 — in, sadly, Diaz’s last show. A few months earlier, Reina Tropical sold out their hometown show at the Paramount Theater in Boile Heights. Their memorable performances included colorful video projections created by Nectali, offering abstract and radical depictions of indigeneity, queerness, Afro-diasporic identities, activism and dance. This gesture, along with lyrics celebrating all of these themes, attracted people from all walks of life, but was especially revered by BIPOC and LGBTQ communities around the world.

Nectali grew up in Long Beach in the ’90s, a modest urban coastal environment in Los Angeles County that shaped his street smarts and a barrio-based approach to music and life. He graduated from Lakewood High School, where he was a wrestling champion. His academic and athletic legacy lives on through his niece, Leslie Diaz, who is also league champion in cross country running in Long Beach.

Nectali was a self-described “rude boy” (a devout ska fan) since his teenage years. That’s when he picked up the upright bass, contributing to LA’s thriving Latino ska scene by starting a band and starting a backyard. His love of reggae and rocksteady was a direct inspiration for his music career. His love for dub was unwavering throughout his life, attending as many shows as he could. He loved going into the pit and was quick to help and pick up fellow skekers who would fall. This passion persisted until his final hours in this realm, attending a ska show to see the Rascahuels, the Steady 45s and Cafe con Tequila in the hours before his accident.

The image of his bright, ubiquitous brightly colored cap, his deep dimples and what his friends lovingly referred to as his “baby face” will remain etched in the minds of all who knew him.

After high school, Diaz picked up the hairdressing trade, which led him to move to New York to study at the prestigious Sassoon Academy. Before turning to music full-time last year, he had a successful career as a hairstylist in Los Angeles. He eventually became a master of the trade, teaching a generation of LA hairdressers his confident but no-nonsense style of cutting. His students called Nectali “Mr. Diaz.” Even as his music career took off, managing Reina Tropical’s tours and sound production on his own, he still made time to cut his friends’ hair on request. Those hairstyling sessions with friends in his home studio doubled as therapy for having meaningful deep conversations about family, relationships, and overcoming mental obstacles as a creative professional.

Nectali was proudly stubborn in his habits and notorious for falling for everything. The image of his bright, ubiquitous brightly colored cap, his deep dimples and what his friends lovingly referred to as his “baby face” will remain etched in the minds of all who knew him. If you had lunch with him, he would take you to his favorite under-the-radar street vendors that he loved to support. He liked to eat smoked lamb barbacoa tacos or Puebla-style ceviche tostadas, and cold brown-bagged Mexican tall boys to wash them down. If you’re having dinner, he’d take you to his favorite humble Korean place for spicy wings and salmon sashimi. He drank coffee all day.

He was an OG gamer who collected retro gaming consoles and arcade cabinets at home. He especially liked to play Street Fighter 2 and was masterful at hadoken fireballs. He stayed in touch with childhood friends from Long Beach, but made hundreds of new friends online around the world through their dedication to music. He met Fabio Reyna, as part of the Red Bull Music Academy Bass Camp at the 2017 Bonnaroo Music Festival — selected as two of 20 up-and-coming producers and musicians from across the country. There they bonded over their love of the tropical diaspora and began experimenting with their unique writing process: a process involving pure improvisation consisting of a four-hour session per song with the aim of capturing the moment and environment.

Rest in peace, Sumo Hair. Your next stop is hope.

In 2013, Nectali starred in KCET Artbound documentary for his pioneering work in the LA electro-cumbia scene, along with Diego Guerrero and Eduardo Gomes, his close friends from Long Beach and DJs who formed golden machine gun.

But DJing wasn’t enough for him.

“We liked to spin vinyl, but Nectali liked to create his own sound,” Guerrero tells LA TACO.

Earlier this year, Nectali published a screenshot on his Instagram account informing him that his favorite artist, someone he was directly inspired by, Manu Chao, listened to Reina Tropical and liked it.

“Wow! the only kind of validation I’ve ever needed,” he posted in his caption.

Hundreds of Nectala’s fans around the world are posting their memories and condolences to their tropical music star, all shared on Reina Tropical’s Instagram account. His bandmate, Fabi, announced that they will keep Reina Tropical because that’s what Nectali wants her to do.

“I will make sure that his vision, art and music live on and be distributed as much as my body has the capacity in this life.” And as long as you are all open to receive it,” she says.

Reina Tropical performs at the music festival this Saturday, August 6, in Chicago.

A funeral for Nectali will be held at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Long Beach, the same resting place where his favorite singer, also from Long Beach, Nate Dogg, is buried.

Rest in peace, Nectali Diaz. Your next stop is hope.

Diego Guerrero is organizing a fundraiser on behalf of Nectali’s family. Find a gofundme here.

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