Black History 365: Nectali “Sumo Hair” Diaz

Photo courtesy of Farah Sosa.

Nectali ‘Sumo Hair’ Díaz, L.A.’s Tropical Music Visionary and Activist for Afro Mexico, Dies Tragically at 42

Javier Cabral·August 4, 2022


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

He died tragically 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 inspiration to many who crossed paths with him and experienced his bold spirit. He was the embodiment of a cultural revolution and a multifaceted human. 

He is survived by his mother, Magdalena Duran Galarza, and father, Laurentino Díaz Salvador, and his “musical soulmate,” Fabi Reyna, the other half of his emerging musical project, Reyna Tropical.  

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

Nectali’s infinite passion for tropical culture lives on in the countless tracks he produced throughout the last decade of his career and for his breakout band. His untimely death is felt far and wide, from his hometown community of Long Beach, where he was raised, all the way to Latin America’s tropical music scene, a tight-knit community that revered him for his ability to create innovative, extremely catchy beats by weaving together atmospheric sounds of birds chirping and Afro-Indigenous instruments. 

Nectali’s band gained an international audience after touring around the country with Colombian megastars Bomba Estereo last year, and opening for Monsieur Periné at The Ford Theater in Hollywood on Sunday, July 24th, 2022—in what would sadly be Diaz’s last show. A few months prior, Reyna Tropical sold out a hometown show they headlined at the Paramount Theater in Boyle Heights. Their memorable performances featured colorful video projections that Nectali created, offering abstract and radical depictions of Indigeneity, queerness, Afro-diasporic identities, activism, and dancing. This gesture, along with lyrics celebrating all these themes, attracted people from all backgrounds but was especially revered by BIPOC and LGBTQ communities around the world.    

Nectali was raised in Long Beach in the 90s, a humbling urban coastal environment in Los Ángeles County that shaped his street smarts and barrio-rooted approach to music and life. He graduated from Lakewood High School, where he was a champion wrestler. His academic and athletic legacy lives on through his niece, Leslie Díaz, who is also a league champion in cross country running in Long Beach. 

Nectali was a self-described “rude boy” (a devout fan of ska music) since his teenage years. This is when he picked up an upright bass, contributing to L.A.’s thriving Latino ska scene by starting a band and activating backyards. His adoration for reggae and rocksteady was a direct inspiration for his musical career. His love for dub was unwavering throughout his life, attending as many shows as he could. He loved getting in the pit and rushed to help and pick up fellow skankers who would fall. This passion persisted all the way to his final hours in this realm, attending a ska show to see Raskahuele, Steady 45s, and Cafe con Tequila hours before his accident.  

The image of his bright, omnipresent, brightly colored beanie, his deep dimples, and what his friends lovingly called his “babyface” will stay etched in all who knew him.

After high school, Diaz picked up the craft of hairdressing, which led him to move to New York to study at the prestigious Sassoon Academy. Before committing to music full-time last year, he had a successful career as a hairdresser in L.A. He eventually also became a teacher of the craft, teaching a generation of L.A. hairdressers his confident, but unconceited haircutting style. His students referred to Nectali as “Mr. Díaz.” Even as his musical career picked up, self-managing Reyna Tropical’s tours and sound production, he still carved out time to cut his friends’ hair upon request. Those hairdressing sessions with friends at his home studio doubled as therapy to have meaningful deep conversations about family, relationships and overcoming mental obstacles as a creative professional. 

Nectali was proudly stubborn in his habits and notorious for being down for whatever. The image of his bright, omnipresent, brightly colored beanie, his deep dimples, and what his friends lovingly called his “babyface” will stay etched in all who knew him. If having lunch with him, he would take you to his favorite under-the-radar street vendors, which he loved to support. He loved eating Puebla-style smoked lamb barbacoa tacos or ceviche tostadas, and brown-bagging cold Mexican tallboys to wash it down. If having dinner, he would take you to his favorite low-key Korean spot to have spicy wings and salmon sashimi. He drank coffee all day long.

He was an OG gamer who collected retro gaming consoles and arcade cabinets at home. He particularly loved playing Street Fighter 2 and was masterful at hadoken fireballs. He kept in touch with childhood friends from Long Beach but made hundreds of new friends around the world online through their devotion to music. He met Fabi Reyna, as part of Red Bull Music Academy’s Bass Camp at Bonnaroo Music Festival in 2017—chosen as two of 20 up-and-coming producers and musicians from around the country. It was there that they bonded over their love for the tropical diaspora and began experimenting with their unique writing process: a process inclusive of pure improvisation consisting of a four-hour session per song aimed at capturing the moment and the environment.  

Rest In Peace, Sumo Hair. Your próxima estación is esperanza.

In 2013, Nectali co-starred in a KCET Artbound documentary for his pioneering work in L.A.’s electro-cumbia scene, along with Diego Guerrero and Eduardo Gómez, his close Long Beach-raised friends and DJs that formed Metralleta de Oro

But DJing wasn’t enough for him.

“We loved spinning vinyl, but Nectali loved creating his own sound, ” Guerrero tells L.A. TACO.  

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

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

Hundreds of Nectali’s fans around the world have been posting their memories and condolences to their tropical music star, all of which are being shared on Reyna Tropical’s Instagram account. His bandmate, Fabi, has announced that she will keep Reyna Tropical going because that is what Nectali would want her to do.

“I am going to make sure his vision, art, and music live and get distributed as far as my body has the capacity for in this lifetime. And as long as you are all open to receiving it,” she says.  

Reyna Tropical is performing at a music festival this Saturday, August 6th, in Chicago. 

The funeral services for Nectali will be held at Forest Lawn cemetery in Long Beach, the same resting grounds where his favorite singer also from Long Beach, Nate Dogg, is buried.      

Rest In Peace, Nectali Diaz. Your próxima estación is esperanza.