Alynda Lee Segarra -- the mastermind behind Hurray For the Riff Raff -- describes herself as somebody “whose house is many locations.” Puerto Rico is considered one of them, ancestrally: The singer-songwriter grew up within the Bronx, however the roots of her household tree unfurl within the island’s soil, as each of her dad and mom hail from its southern coast. Segarra’s exploration of her id intensified after she left her residence and ultimately settled in New Orleans (and later Nashville), and this course of -- the religious journey of a soul-mining nomad -- impressed her 2017 idea album, The Navigator. The report explores Segarra’s place within the Puerto Rican diaspora, and it ceaselessly throws to the acquainted sounds of her childhood: Spanish dialog, road visitors and subway vehicles.
One observe off The Navigator took on a brand new, pressing energy below the trickle-down xenophobia championed by the Trump administration. “Pa’lante,” impressed by the inclusive radical ethos and rallying cry of ‘70s Puerto Rican activists the Young Lords, is a tribute to the disenfranchised. Its lyrics communicate particularly to the dehumanizing results of colonization, which Puerto Ricans and the Latinx inhabitants at giant have been topic to below Trump’s wall-championing agenda and the neglect his administration has proven Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017.
The music video for “Pa’lante,” filmed in Puerto Rico and launched earlier this yr, focuses on the energy it takes to climate the winds of apocalypse -- one thing Segarra witnessed once more throughout a week-long journey to the island this month. On Dec. 2, Segarra went to Puerto Rico with the Newport Folk Festival to donate $20,000 price of musical devices -- paid for by means of a retail collaboration between Newport Folk and Keen Footwear -- to college students dwelling in rebuilding communities. They additionally teamed up with with unbiased musicians from the island’s non-profit group PRIMA to carry out intimate reveals all through the island, and Segarra was struck particularly by a crew of faculty children in Orocovis who had realized “Pa’lante” earlier than her arrival and carried out it along with her throughout her go to.
“We met this superb music instructor named Omar who was so passionate,” she recollects. “He was saying, ‘You give these children an instrument, a trumpet, a bass -- it’s superb how a lot they relax.’ I might really feel that power. It was a punk second for positive.”
Segarra says the journey has imbued her story, her music and her activism with new that means. Below, she tells Billboard concerning the transformative powers of her go to, the connection she felt to the island and what it was like making music with these therapeutic and transferring ahead.
On the origins of her journey:
[Festival producer] Jay Sweet known as me months in the past, saying, “Newport is basically attempting to focus extra on giving again with their basis to communities which are being underserved relating to arts and music schooling. What do you concentrate on going to Puerto Rico?” For the previous yr, I’ve been attempting to get to Puerto Rico, and attempting to consider easy methods to go there to not take, however to present. It felt like a very nice thought. He teamed up with an organization known as Keen, they usually have been like, “Okay, we’re going to make a shoe and put the Newport emblem on it. Let’s give half the [proceeds] to of us attempting to rebuild in several communities after a pure catastrophe.” Jay took these funds and was like, “Let’s go to Puerto Rico, let’s guarantee that children in rural cities have the devices that they want.”
On working with PRIMA:
I linked [Newport Folk] with a company known as PRIMA, which was created by unbiased Puerto Rican artists. They needed to present grants to unbiased musicians and artists on the island -- grants that might simply assist them reside, assist them survive the storm and in addition create group and actually blossom the scene. There are so many artists and musicians doing cool shit right here.
On her expectations for the go to:
There was a lot pleasure, and in addition nervousness and a bit little bit of worry, on my means out right here. Puerto Ricans who should not from the island, a whole lot of us -- I ought to say I -- have this insecurity about being an outsider. Coming right here is like coming to the motherland. I’ll all the time be from New York. I’ll all the time have my life expertise. There’s a lot about eager to be adequate. I got here into this journey actually attempting to place my insecurities away and simply be current, open and honest.
On the connection between New Orleans and Puerto Rico as hurricane-ravaged locations:
I’ve met lots of people [in Puerto Rico] who're extraordinarily uncooked with me. It’s been a device, actually, to attach, to be like, “Hey, I’ve seen this earlier than. I reside in a metropolis and in a group of people that know this ache.” Working with PRIMA, I’ve been in a position to be like, “This shit works, they did it in New Orleans.” There have been musicians who weren’t getting their weekly gigs and attempting to feed their households. People got here in like, “If we wish to guarantee that New Orleans stays New Orleans, now we have to maintain the musicians alive.”
On music’s therapeutic powers:
I’ve spoken to lots of people who're extraordinarily conscious of how the dehumanization that they have been uncovered to -- after the storm, in the course of the storm and earlier than the storm by individuals in energy, whether or not it’s the Puerto Rican authorities or the States -- impacts them spiritually, emotionally, bodily.
That’s been a very stunning factor, to speak to so many people who find themselves prepared to call it, who're conscious that it’s trauma to their psyche, who're very targeted on utilizing music and artwork and connecting with ancestors to heal the trauma. In the States, there’s loads happening with self-care actions -- people who find themselves getting in contact with this concept of therapeutic and utilizing spirituality as a approach to heal. With the Puerto Ricans I’ve frolicked with, this didn't really feel like a brand new realization. This was a device given to them by their grandparents, their dad and mom, one thing they'd of their again pockets: “It’s time for me to make use of our instruments, these outdated methods and these outdated traditions to maintain the Puerto Rican individuals alive.”
On her altering relationship with “Pa’lante”:
Just enjoying it for individuals right here -- for youths, for the elders, their dad and mom, the lecturers, the individuals who have seen the consequences of this storm and are feeling a whole lot of worry -- it was this second of connection for me. It felt just like the tune was coming from one other place after I wrote it, and after I was [in Orocovis], I used to be like, “This is the place it got here from.” It felt like I didn’t write the tune -- we wrote the tune. It was actually good on a private degree, to get out of my very own head and be like, “This is about letting the music communicate by means of me.” I've a tough time with that. To be trustworthy, on this political local weather, my anxiousness has gotten worse. Performing has been tough, as a result of it’s so exhausting to place away the entire ugliness and the worry, and it permeates your physique and comes out in your psyche in bizarre methods. To come right here and play “Pa’lante,” it felt like a second of readability: “This is what it’s about, all of these evil motherfuckers can fuck off proper now.”
On the journey’s affect:
It taught me loads about how highly effective it's after I focus my power on collaborating and amplifying the work of people who find themselves on the market organizing their group. That energizes me versus drains me. Connecting with a panorama like Puerto Rico and with youngsters, it actually taught me loads about, “Wow, that is what I wish to do with my life -- how do I maintain doing this? How do I believe big-picture and be a musician however how do I proceed to get devices to Puerto Rico? How do I be sure that children are in a position to channel their trauma and their ache into music to allow them to survive? So Puerto Rican music can survive?”
It was such a battery cost, like, “I don’t have to simply sit at residence and fucking cry about how fucked up our nation is true now. I can join with people who find themselves doing the great work. How can I assist them? How can I do it myself?” When you retain the musicians alive, you retain the resistance alive.
On what she’d inform different guests:
I actually wish to encourage any artists that go there, particularly in the event that they’re indirectly emotionally connected to the island and that is one thing new for them, to recollect, the trauma individuals went by means of. It’s straightforward to overlook once you haven’t skilled it. In the long run years, I hope individuals proceed to recollect what individuals have gone by means of. Two, three years after Katrina, individuals have been like, “Well, why don’t individuals recover from it?” And that’s not how PTSD works. That’s not how trauma works. I simply wish to actually remind those that these items takes a very long time to work by means of, and it’s one thing to be respectful of.
This dialog has been condensed and calmly edited for readability and size.