Hurray For The Riff Raff Fights For Its Heritage On 'The Navigator'

Audio: Inside Track With Hurray For The Riff Raff

Hurray For The Riff Raff

(Photo: courtesy of the artist)

Alynda Segarra grew up in a Puerto Rican community in the New York City's Bronx borough. When she was a teenager, she left New York and landed in New Orleans -- where she started making folk music under the name Hurray For The Riff Raff.

But when she came back to New York, her neighborhood looked different. A lot of the people she grew up around were gone.

"I wish I knew how good I had it when I was in these neighborhoods, with people from the neighborhood," she says. "You don’t even get that anymore."

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Segarra's songs have always been political, but for her new album she decided to use her music to make a statement about gentrification -- about soaring real estate prices that force longtime residents, and their culture, out of a neighborhood.

The new record is called “The Navigator.” It tells the story of Navita Milagros Negron, "kind of a superhero version of me when I was 17," Segarra says.

Navita lives in a fictional city based on Segarra’s old borough. The character loves her city, but feels suffocated by it.

So she makes a wish to escape. She travels through time -- 40 years into the future -- and sees a completely different version of her neighborhood, called Rican Beach.

"That’s when she’s like, 'Oh my God, where is any remnant of my people? Where’s our culture? Where’s the lineage that was left behind?' she says. "So she goes from running away from it to desperately trying to find it."

Hurray for the Riff Raff creates a mix of sounds that celebrate the different music scenes in New York. There’s Latin music, some doo wop harmonies, and punk rock inspired by Patti Smith.

"I really wanted the sounds of New York to be there," she says. "That is a bunch of different rhythms and a bunch of different influences, and a lot of street poetry on top of that."

In the end, Navita learns she needs to fight for her culture and neighborhood -- and she feels a newfound sense of pride. 

"I just felt this really strong desire to say something," she says. "And have a character that is female, that is young, that is really headstrong, and is really proud."

The singer says she rediscovered her heritage in recent years and felt obligated to highlight the resilience and diversity of the Puerto Rican community. 

"I was teaching myself how to be proud so I want to teach other people how to do that, too," she says.

Segarra is proud to immerse herself in her heritage, but it doesn’t mean Hurray For the Riff Raff will relocate back to New York. Like she said, the neighborhood is different -- and much more expensive. 

But “The Navigator” shows she can tell a story -- and use her music to make a statement -- from wherever she works.

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