Hurray for the Riff Raff se ha destacado en años recientes dentro del panorama musical anglosajón a fuerza de un repertorio que combina influencias del rock clásico, vertientes del “Americana”, y una visión política progresiva inspirada en el legado de artistas como Rodríguez y los Ghetto Brothers. Sú más reciente producción, The Navigator (ATO Records, 2017), recibió críticas positivas de medios como RollingStone, Pitchfork, Mojo, NME y The Guardian, entre muchos otros. El mismo es un álbum concepto con elementos de ciencia ficción, a través del cual Alynda Segarra –cantante y líder del grupo– explora sus raíces boricuas e influencias musicales latinas.
Esta semana la banda se prepara para su próximo gran reto: su primer concierto en Puerto Rico, a celebrarse este jueves, 6 de diciembre, en La Respuesta en Santurce. El evento gratuito servirá para recaudar donativos para la organización benéfica PRIMA y contará con el talento local de Alegría Rampante, Lizbeth Román y Fernandito Ferrer.
Compartimos a continuación nuestra entrevista con Alynda, en la cual le preguntamos sobre algunos momentos importantes dentro de su carrera musical, su esperanza por el futuro, y por supuesto, qué opina del trap.
Puerto Rico Indie (PRI): So this is going to be Hurray for the Riff Raff’s very first concert here in Puerto Rico. How are you feeling about it and what can people who have yet to see you live expect from your live show? I know you are a seasoned veteran, and you’ve been meaning to play here for a while now —but does it make you nervous in any way to finally be able to do it?
Alynda Segarra (AS): I definitely have been feeling some nerves about going there, because it means so much to me. I’ve always wanted to play on the island, it’s been like a dream for me since I was a kid. And, I think what people should expect is that we really try to create some kind of escape from how fucked up the world is right now. Just expect a show that isn’t afraid to talk about what’s going on in the outside world. But it’s also trying to create something positive and trying to join our forces when we’re all together watching music. It’s a time when we can dream up the world we want to live in, and see the change we want to see in the world.
PRI: Earlier this year we were honored to share your powerful music video for “Pa’ lante” and speak with director Kristian Figueroa about the shoot and the difficult post-Hurricane María times that it helped portray. Can you share with us a little bit about your experience making that song and it’s inspiration? What role does it play within the broader narrative or context of your latest record, The Navigator? Were your loved ones affected by the hurricanes?
AS: The video came towards the end of the album cycle, and me and Kris thought a lot about it, we spoke a lot about it, and how we really wanted to create something that was specifically talking about Puerto Ricans and about the interesting relationships that the Puerto Ricans have with the islands and with New York City and with other cities on the mainland, in the US. We really wanted to create something that was specifically about Puerto Rican experience, but also just a human experience.
There was a moment where I was kinda nervous and thought, should we make this more broad, should we make this less specific so that more people can relate to it. But we both realized that Puerto Rican people deserve to have this experience highlighted, and other people will relate who are from different backgrounds. And I think that was a really good lesson for me, in being very specific about my experience in the world, and hoping that other people can just relate, even if they’re coming from different places, because it really is about that human experience. A lot of different people can relate to the feeling of being far from their homeland, or feeling like they’re disconnected from their homeland and they were never really able to know it in the first place.
The making of the video seems like it was really amazing, I didn’t have a lot to do with it, because I was on tour. But I was able to film in my neighborhood that I grew up in, and I was able to film in my dad’s apartment, my dad is actually in the video, and that was so good for me. It was a really big moment to come to especially at the end of this album cycle when this album was so much about getting in touch with who I was as a kid and who I am now. And we kinda left the story of the album for a bit, but we’ll be able to come back to it in the future because I’m working on some other projects having to do with the album, and the story of the album.
PRI: I read you visited the island back when you were putting out Small Town Heroes back in 2014, and that that experience informed the making of The Navigator. It was interesting to read that you were learning then more about your Puerto Rican roots and how you fit into the culture —a bit of a reversal from the experience of those of us who live here most of our lives and then move out for one reason or another, and have to learn how to fit within a broader culture. It feels like the things that sometimes seem limiting and often suffocating while living here are the ones with miss the most when abroad… Where do you stand in that process now, four years later? Do you feel more boricua? What have you discovered about your roots and yourself, and the role they play in your life and art moving forward?
AS: I feel like, I’m becoming more okay with not fitting into… anything as I get older. I still have struggles with feeling like I’m not Puerto Rican enough. I still have struggles with feeling like I’m not enough in a lot of different ways, you know? I think what I’m learning is that the best way to combat that is to dive deeper into what makes you unique and what makes you different. And to also research, and get in touch with your ancestors; I think that’s what I’ve been trying to do. That started four years ago when I started to write this album.
I’m also always trying to figure out privilege and trying to acknowledge the pain that I have felt in my experience on earth, and also the ancestral pain that I’ve inherited, while still recognizing the privilege that I have and the platform that I have and the way that people listen to me. So I think that’s been the most exciting part of the journey is okay, what can I do with this now? And all of those insecurities, all of those feelings that are really old and come from when I was a kid of “oh, I’m not this enough,” or “I’m not that enough,” I’m trying to just instead of focusing on that focus on what can I do? How can I by being myself, how can I help my people, how can I spread the word? And share my platform and shine the spotlight on people that are doing good work.
I think that’s what I’m trying to do, and this show is just one example of me going to Puerto Rico because I want to go there and meet people, and share music, and I want to be inspired and make connections. I think that’s another way to combat that is to make connections and to be open.
PRI: I first heard about your music –as most people probably did– through “The Body Electric”, which NPR called The Political Folk Song of the Year, but it might end of being more like of the decade, if not more. It is such a powerful song with a message that sadly still needs to be heard and spread and meditated upon, more so in this political climate dominated by fear and hate of “the other”, and the continued violence towards minorities and women. As someone both inspired and involved in many social causes… do you feel hope for our future? What guides you? And how do you cope with the emotional and mental toll of it all?
AS: I always feel hope even in my most challenging moments. I think I feel hope because I don’t really see a choice. The moments when I’m like “everything is totally fucked,” are so short for me because I just have this drive to just constantly keep going. I think more than anything, I’m really stubborn and I don’t want the people in power –who are really trying to erase people like me– I don’t want them to win. I think it comes from a very punk, very rebellious part of me. That’s like, they will not see me fucking crack. I am going to stay hopeful, I am going to find a way to experience joy, I am going to find a way to spend time with my friends, and to lift up people who are not being heard or not being seen, and who have deserved it for fucking decades and centuries.
I feel like my drive comes from a punk place, and from just fucking hating bullies. And sometimes you can just really narrow down what’s happening right now to,“this bully is not going to get me down.” And I can feel like that because I’m lucky to be surrounded by an amazing community, and to have experienced a community and a world of outsiders, of artists, of radicals. I feel really lucky that I found that world, and that I met so many people that taught me so much. When I feel really down and when I feel like I’m getting depleted, I also go to people from the past who have experienced so much hatred and so much violence and so much fear, and have left behind a body of work that’s like a roadmap to not giving in, and to not giving in to despair, and to continuing to do your work. Sometimes I listen to Nina Simone, or I’ll read James Baldwin. Sometimes I look at books about the Young Lords. Or sometimes I just turn on a computer and I just watch lectures of Toni Morrison.
There are so many people out there that have left us work and continue to leave us work. That is a roadmap to not giving into despair. It’s still really fucking hard for me, and touring has been harder, and playing certain songs has been harder than ever, and I think it’s good to say that and to acknowledge it and not be ashamed of it. Yes it gets really fucking hard, sometimes it’s really scary. It’s really important for us to be honest, even when we’re scared. Just because I have this drive, doesn’t mean the fear isn’t there, just like it is for everybody else.
PRI: I really dug your version of “My Sweet Lord” off your cover’s record, My Dearest Darkest Neighbor –that’s my favorite track off it, for sure (All Things Must Pass being one of those records I often turn to, and particularly when I need an emotional lift). I just learned it was recorded as part of a crowdfunding campaign to help finance the making of Look Out Mama, back in 2012, which is super cool. I feel like musician’s often have mixed feeling about crowdfunding records now –but I’m still a big proponent of it, or using something like Patreon, for example, particularly if you want to consolidate your community of followers and are looking to push yourself into a next step. How was that experience for you and the band? What lessons did you learn from it, what came of it, and would you recommend it for independent musicians in 2018-2019?
AS: I really think it’s a great tool, especially for people who are often ignored. If you’re queer, if you’re a person of color, or if you’re a woman, I feel like it can be really fucking hard to get signed, and it can be really hard to be taken seriously. So I think like anything that keeps us going, anything that keeps you making your art, if it’s getting a bunch of people who love your art who are like “yeah we want to support you. This work that you makes helps us live, it helps us survive the times that we’re in,” I think it’s a really great tool, and people shouldn’t be ashamed of it.
That being said, I feel really lucky that I’m on a great label, and I feel really lucky that I’ve been working with people who have let me be myself. So obviously I don’t really need to do it anymore, but I think that it’s a really great tool for people who are not in the same position. And making that covers album was really great for me, and it helped us make Look Out Mama, and that album was such a bridge to get us to the next step. I think you just have to keep working and every album can be a step to the level that you are dreaming of for yourself.
PRI: And if you were to record like a Latinx or Puerto Rican volume of covers –Mi vecino más querido y oscuro, let’s call it for the purposes of this interview. Which artists would make the cut?
AS: There’s a lot of current artist that I really love. Definitely I would love to do a song by Buscabulla, a Puerto Rican band. I would love to cover something from my friends Making Movies, and a song from Downtown Boys. A Chicano Batman song would be really cool. And as far as artists from the past go, I would love to cover some songs from the Ghetto Brothers. They were a huge inspiration to me for making The Navigator. They are a band from the 70s who started as a street gang, but decided to stop fighting and use their music to bring the gangs together. Rodriguez, of course, I was obsessed with Rodriguez while I was making the album. I think it would also be great to cover Willie Colón’s stuff, as well as a song from La Lupe.
PRI: I don’t know if you know… but latin trap has exploded here on the island (yeah, I know, it’s a big secret) and the genre has given plenty to say to both its fans and detractors. What’s your take?
AS: I think the music that is popular for young people and music that doesn’t rely on respectability politics is always gonna get criticism and I prefer to focus my criticism on people who are in power, like politicians who are like actually creating situations that are harmful for people of color, for people who are minorities, you know for people who are targeted. I prefer to keep my focus, my criticism on politicians and people in power, people that are making life really difficult. And when it comes to artists, I think they should feel free to make their art, whether it’s gonna be polite or not, whether it’s gonna make people feel uncomfortable or not.
PRI: Lastly, this Thursday’s show will help fund PRIMA’s next initiatives to help independent artists and musicians living in Puerto Rico. How did you find out about PRIMA and why do you think it is important to support organizations like it? What advice do you have for our independent artists looking to push their projects beyond our “100×35”?
AS: Well I played a show with Buscabulla years ago and I immediately fell in love with their music so that’s how I learned about Raquel who is one of the founders. And the project really –well the organization reminded me of something that was happening in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina where artists were receiving grants to help them live. And I thought it was so amazing to live in a city that was recognizing that, you know, artists were a huge part –I never experienced that before. People didn’t forget about the musicians of New Orleans after the storm.
And so I knew that that type of initiative worked because I saw it happen, I saw musicians getting the help that they need, I saw how it affected the mind frame of the city to acknowledge that musicians were a part of keeping the culture alive, were a part of keeping the history, you know. So I thought it was such a great idea and I really trusted the people who were creating it. I just thought it was a really easy thing for me to do, to make sure I kept reminding people about PRIMA and doing what I could to make sure they got funding wherever I could.
As far as advice, I would say what helped me when I felt like I was really isolated and I felt like I could never break out of the bubble of my community, of my world, when I was first writing music… At first I just embraced it and I really reached out to people and I collaborated a lot. You know, there’s so much you can do now with the internet, if it’s like “Well my friend wants to learn how to make music videos, my friend wants to learn how to be a producer, my friend wants to learn how to be a choreographer.” Doing all that together, really strengthens the project. You can create something that can reach outside of your immediate world because of the internet. So I would say to collaborate and to not be ashamed of where you’re at in your journey.
If you still need to work a bunch a jobs, that is nothing to be ashamed of. You know artists come in all forms, don’t let it discourage you just because you are not able to fully make a living as an artist- that doesn’t make you any less of an artist. So I think a lot of it is getting over some shame and some inner mental stuff, and really strengthening your relationship with your identity as an artist because it took me so long. I put out 4 albums before I was able to say out loud “I’m an artist”, because I felt like I wasn’t, and I felt like I was a fake, so I think really strengthening that relationship can do so much for you. To just acknowledge it, not let anyone take it away from you, it’ll just make it more enjoyable too. That’s my advice.
El concierto de Hurray for the Riff Raff será este jueves, 6 de diciembre en La Respuesta en Santurce, Puerto Rico. La entrada al evento será gratuita, con todo donativo destinado al fondo de la organización PRIMA (Puerto Rican Independent Musicians & Artists). Se estarán presentando esa noche además Alegría Rampante, Lizbeth Román y Fernandito Ferrer. Para más información del evento, visita Facebook. Para más información de PRIMA, visita primafund.org.