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Everybody, Meet Naalia

sister/brother duo’s R&B tunes are remarkably fresh

Eric Christenson

‘THAT RAINDROPPY SOUND.’ Aliana Sigala is the stunning voice behind Naalia, a new local band with her brother Sergio that combines smooth synths, big beats, and lyrical vulnerability for a refreshing addition to the local scene.
‘THAT RAINDROPPY SOUND.’ Aliana Sigala is the stunning voice behind Naalia, a new local band with her brother Sergio that combines smooth synths, big beats, and lyrical vulnerability for a refreshing addition to the local scene.

From the minute you hear Aliana Sigala’s singing voice, it becomes startlingly apparent she’s a special talent. Raised on classic R&B and honed on musical theater and show choir, she ducks around notes with swiftness, power, and vulnerability. And she makes it seem easy.

Aliana’s first foray into making her own music is a project called Naalia (an anagram of her name) with her younger brother Sergio who handles the silky production that’s chock full of warm synths and hard-hitting drum sounds. On their debut self-titled EP set to drop in mid-July, there’s epic hooks and big sounds – but there’s some moments where the music takes a seat and lets Aliana carry the whole thing, and that’s when you really feel it.

“It’s always been known in our family that Aliana’s the one with the voice,” Sergio said. “And she’s a great songwriter too. She won’t tell you though. Sometimes it’s hard for me to trust people, but handing it off to her, she’s got it. She kills it.”

“We’re trying to make Naalia a symbol for women, people of color, people who are trying to figure out who it is they are and want to be.” – Sergio Sigala

Aliana and Sergio grew up in Eau Claire making music; Sergio had some bands in high school while Aliana held it down in choirs. In their early teens, they spent a number of years apart while Aliana went to high school across the country. She transferred to UW-Eau Claire and made her way back to the Valley, before ultimately deciding school wasn’t for her. So Aliana spent a month or two with family in Mexico – eventually joined by Sergio – and after the trip, they came back to live with their mother and make music. They come from a Mexican family – a big one – but not an altogether musical one, except for their grandfather who would write love songs for their grandmother. But they said their extended family is thrilled about their burgeoning musical aspirations.

“My grandma got really excited, she was like ‘Let me buy you guys an outfit.’ She wants to buy things for us, it’s so cute,” Aliana said. Sergio added: “We’re really lucky to have a family that’s super supportive.”

Naalia’s true debut was a full-band performance for Converge Radio’s Tiny Desk Concert video project back in April, where their smooth synths and vibey songs stood out even among some of the most celebrated musicians in the Chippewa Valley. And since then, it’s been kind of a whirlwind for the sister/brother duo, with long nights getting the EP ready and polished at Sprinter Studios, booking shows like Sounds Like Summer (June 27) and their single release party at The Plus (June 28), and even ideating a full-length record and touring down the line. On top of that, they’re refining their live act for upcoming shows with a full five-piece band. It’s been a busy couple months, but they seem to be taking it in stride.

“There’s so many opportunities that keep popping up, and it just affirms that we’re doing something right,” Aliana said. “I think we’re on the right track.”

The Sigalas make a great team. Maybe it’s the sibling connection, or maybe it’s a shared passion for the art, but they make it work really well. That’s not to say they don’t have fights or agree on everything. They both admit to being stubborn.

“Sometimes I have weird descriptive words,” Aliana said with a laugh. “That ‘raindroppy sound,’ or ‘the one that sounds happy.’ ” But Sergio has learned to trust her instincts. “Her raindrops sounds, those happy noises, it’s my job to translate that.”

And then when it works, it really works. “We can always tell because we’ll both feel it,” Sergio said.

It’s not always easy, but making music together has definitely made their relationship stronger, and helped them build their trust. At the end of a long night in the studio, even the hard ones, they still have to share a car ride home.

Aliana and Sergio are 21 and 19 respectively, and they already understand on a deep level that the music is bigger than just the two of them. It’s a chemical way to bond and develop not only as artists, but as people. Their entry into the historically folk- and blues-driven Eau Claire music scene is a bit of a shake-up in both the music itself, and the perspective from which they create.

“We’re trying to make Naalia a symbol for women, people of color, people who are trying to figure out who it is they are and want to be,” Sergio said. “It’s about acceptance and empowerment.”

In a lot of ways the Naalia EP feels like a breath of fresh air in the local scene, something familiar yet unlike anything else, and a side-step of the traditional local band formula. With their first recorded output, it should challenge listeners to broaden their scope, and hopefully inspire some musicians to give it a shot for themselves. And even without all that, the songs are just good. Really good.

The Naalia EP releases in mid-July, but you have two chances to catch Naalia live in Eau Claire, for free. The band will perform at the Sounds Like Summer Concert Series in Phoenix Park on Thursday, June 27, and at The Plus on Friday, June 28, with TeawhYB and Miles Blvd. They’re releasing the single “No One But You” on June 28 at the show, and starting pre-orders for the self-titled EP that same night. To learn more about Naalia, check out www.facebook.com/naaliaec.