Née: Gabriela Guerrero
Raíces: Miami, Florida
Sounds like: R&B on acid
You should listen to Native Youth because…her luminous coos will make you want to kick it between the sheets a little longer.
At one of Miami’s most beloved bars, Gabriela Guerrero (aka Native Youth) jams out as Kurt Cobain growls over the speakers overhead. With her eyes nearly shut and her earth-toned flannel unbuttoned, Gabriela hums along with a sense of urgency.
Just a few days before her appearance at FM Festival, she opens up about the anxiety that comes with performing at larger venues.
“I’m nervous, excited… It’s the biggest stage I’ve ever performed on. I know myself and it probably won’t even hit me until I’m onstage looking out at the crowd like, ‘Oh fuck, I’m here.’”
Born to Cuban parents, Guerrero began her journey as a DJ, earning a spot in a months-long VEVO competition hosted by Tiesto that consumed the lives of its participants. “I get a call around midnight and a couple days later I had to fly to LA. I quit my job – I was in a relationship at the time – and I just fucking left.”
After a top six finish, Gaby stayed on the West Coast, where she quickly realized that her passion and voice aligned more heavily with the calmer textures of R&B than the sounds blaring from the speakers in Vegas’ money pits. Producing her own beats and recording her own vocals, Guerrero took a leap of faith and started releasing her music online.
Back home in South Florida, she caught the attention of Triangles, an Honduran-Colombian producer who replaced Gabriela’s self-described “shitty beats” with more polished, pared-down, and carnal compositions.
Now paired with a beatmaker, Native Youth has been carefully crafting her sound in daily marathon recording sessions. “I owe a lot to him,” she says while sipping coffee. “He brought it out of me and is critical to what I’m doing now.”
Void of over-the-top vocals or played-out tropes, her Polarized EP (produced by Triangles and Kaixen) brings a necessary edge to the self-obsessed images of today’s R&B universe. “There’s no boundaries in music. We label things to make them familiar.” She continues, “You can hear rock ‘n’ roll in EDM; you can have David Bowie and Michael Jackson who crossover globally – genres don’t exist.”
“Body Talk,” the EP’s opener, feels like being lost in love, floating through a fog of desire. Gabriela’s second verse resembles the pseudo-raps Kali Uchis spat on her debut project Drunken Babble; just replace the California oldies with beats you’d hear at a Shlohmo show.
On “Polarized,” Guerrero’s psychedelic roots bubble over the plush production. Best enjoyed with a chunky spliff (or three), the track’s ebbs and flows will likely remind you of a night when sleeping over made more sense than ordering that ride home.
“I’ve been to Disneyworld and concerts on acid,” she says while staring off into the distance. “It brings your mind to a whole other level, reveals more and more levels of subconscious thinking.”
A few weeks ago, Gabriela performed at the storied Pérez Art Museum Miami. As she cooed over the mic, the Atlantic Ocean lit up in neon greens and pinks behind her. Pulling out a pair of sunglasses, she explained to the dense crowd that she’d like to perform with them on – if they didn’t mind – because they help her feel more comfortable. She laughed it off, relieved, as she put them on her face like a shield from any and all negativity. It’s a vulnerable moment she handles with poise and grace. But just a few minutes later and in between songs, she addresses the crowd one more time. “I’m gonna take these off so I can see you guys better.”
Just like that, as she bares her soul, she’s no longer shielded from the energy flowing through that sea of people on a warm Miami night. It’s just her, her triumphs and tragedies, in front of the world and the world in front of her – just how she wants it.