On the Radar is an ongoing series that looks at artists and bands who I haven’t been able to stop listening to – keeping with the goal of spreading new music to our readers.
For Fans Of: Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Hiss Golden Messenger
Hurray for the Riff Raff, the folk-blues band lead by musician Alynda Segarra, hones in on Segarra’s Nuyorican background to tell stories of oppression and discrimination.
On the band’s latest The Navigator, the band conveys messages that echo politically-driven songs from the likes of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan.
Upon first listen, listeners will pick up a variety of influences. Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were one of the few names to pop into my head as I was carried along the narrative of The Navigator.
This record was inspired by the front woman’s travels back to her roots: Puerto Rico. She was moved by the resilience she saw in the islanders, and this is something we clearly hear on the record.
Songs like “Living in the City” set the scene with a catchy, upbeat vibe that makes it almost impossible not to tap your foot along to the rhythm. It carefully balances on the pillars of folk music, while also giving the listener that sing-songy chorus that you can’t help but to repeat back.
This is the foundation for the ups and down of the protagonist throughout the album.
“Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl” is a picture of some of that resilience Segarra saw on the island, but in the lens of the album’s main character. Throughout all the hardship one finds in their life, we must never lose who we are. The song is supported by a beautiful string section, a finger-picked introduction and an outro that pays homage to Segarra’s Latin roots.
Regardless of what style the song was in, you could always hear those faint dedications to her heritage. That’s one of the main reasons I loved this record so much. The energy in some of the tracks, the emotions just glued you to your seat.
One of the best examples of this is “Rican Beach”. Salsa undertones add to the song’s overall message: gentrification in The Bronx, the place where Segarra grew up in until she left at the age of 17.
“First they stole our language/Then they stole our names/Then they stole the things that brought us faith/And they stole our neighbors/And they stole our streets/And they left us to die on Rican Beach.”
The second to last song is undoubtedly one of the most powerful songs on the album.
“Pa’lante”, which literally translates to “forward” in Spanish, is a rallying cry for those who have been stomped on and crushed by life and what comes with it. The song features a piano and Segarra’s simple vocals that grow with each verse. It’s a song that inspires change; you hear the strength in her voice grow as she ends almost every line in the third verse with “be something.”
“Pa’lante” includes an excerpt of Pedro Pietri’s poem “Puerto Rican Obituary”. This moment in the song serves as a turning point. Segarra then sings and encourages people to keep going.
Standout Tracks: “Living in the City”, “Pa’lante”, “Nothing’s Gonna Change That Girl”, “Rican Beach”, “Fourteen Floors”
Stream The Navigator and the rest of Hurray for the Riff Raff’s collection below on Spotify: