By Sarah Bauer
When Hurray for the Riff Raff’s front woman and visionary Alynda Segarra returned home to New Orleans from the first leg of a tour promoting the band’s latest LP, The Navigator, all she wanted to do was watch RuPaul’s Drag Race. It was her escape from a political climate she still can’t make sense of.
“I feel like the world is falling apart and our country is going to total shit, but then you can watch someone like a drag performer and be filled with this incredible life energy because it’s so radical, and it’s saying ‘F*ck you’ to just about every confinement. And it’s so celebratory.”
Joyful protest is what The Navigator is all about. It’s a concept album centered around Navita Milagros Negrón, a young and impassioned Puerto Rican woman on the road from her home in the Bronx to a sci-fi imagined alternative realm where her culture has been stripped dry and her friends are nowhere to be found.
Segarra created Navita (who shares her similarities as a Bronx-bred Latinx), out of a single question which had held a grip on Segarra’s life and career as a musician: What would happen if Segarra felt like she belonged? As a Puerto Rican, as a woman; where could that power take her?
Segarra discovered the more she followed Navi’s path, the more confidence she retained in herself and her cultural identity. The songs born of this journey have made Segarra feel “more alive and more free,” than she has ever felt in making music.
“Those voices in your head that make you feel bad about yourself,” Segarra says, “for so many years they were just crippling me on stage and sometimes I just hated playing music because the whole set I’d just be like, ‘You suck, you suck, you suck’”.
Lack of self-belief can be a prison, even to an artist with as much vitality and influence as Segarra, who at twenty-nine-years-old marks The Navigator as the sixth full-length for Hurray for the Riff Raff, an acclaimed contributor to the Americana cannon.
The Navigator includes sweet moments of Segarra’s folk influence, with a sunrise-toned country melody on “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” and stripped-back guitar for “Halfway There”, but the overarching sensibility of the remaining tracks is expansive and influenced by Caribbean percussion, lyrics and recorded art. An a cappella doo-wop chorus accompanies Segarra on the opening track “Entrance”, while “Pa’lante” is arranged to stop listeners cold with specific historic references to the injustices of gentrification, loss of cultural identity, and racism.
“I was trying to say, ‘I’m a Latina woman, and this is what my life has been like, and here is how I’m seeing my country right now,’” says Segarra. She credits producer Paul Butler for helping power through the exhaustive emotional growth The Navigator demanded.
On tour for The Navigator, Segarra has reclaimed the joy of playing music and feeling connected to her audience. And as far as any American news channel can tell her, personal connection is needed more than ever.
“I keep thinking the same thought of, ‘You guys, this is not a drill.’ I can’t believe all of this is happening. We need each other.”
Through the hardened voice of Segarra, it’s made clear: we can’t come together quietly.
You can see Hurray for the Riff Raff at The Imperial in Vancouver on June 15th 2017.Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Imperial