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Hurray for the Riff Raff's Alynda Segarra on speaking to her 'Latin soul'

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Shore Fire Media

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Alynda Segarra, a New York-raised singer-songwriter with Puerto Rican roots, has found new meaning in her music following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Segarra's band, Hurray for the Riff Raff, is known for a folk-inspired sound, a style that she developed busking on the streets of New Orleans. But on the band's latest album, "The Navigator," Segarra looks at her teenage years frequenting the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York's East Village.

I learned how to play music not only from my father when I was younger, but I really started to play music when I was a traveling kid. A lot of other street kids I knew were playing folk music. They had acoustic instruments because they're easy to carry and they would all busk on the street. I only knew about playing in the subway from growing up in New York. But in New Orleans, playing on the street was just [getting] to be out in the fresh air.

For Segarra, "The Navigator" was a way to reflect on growing up Puerto Rican on the streets of New York City.

I really wanted to get in touch with what it meant to grow up constantly searching for the underground and the invisible world that was happening. It also was me really trying to get in touch with what it meant to be a Nuyorican woman, what it means to be a part of the diaspora.

So I created this character, Navita, who is really me when I was 17 and who was so stubborn and could not be told what to do. Creating Navita really helped me because I felt like I needed to teach her a lesson. So when you create this character and you create a storyline, you got to teach that character a lesson and you end up teaching yourself.

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Shore Fire Media

Segarra says the song "Pa'lante" carries a special significance for her.

It's a channel for me to remind people every night about the people of Puerto Rico, because I feel so much fear for the people on the island. And I feel so much rage about how their humanity is just getting forgotten in the aftermath of the hurricane. And it really reminds me of how I felt watching New Orleans really struggle to get back on its feet.

Segarra says Nuyorican poet Pedro Pietri was an important influence to her and her love of poetry. Pietri helped create the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City.

When I was in high school, I really just loved poetry so much. It was my outlet. The poem "Puerto Rican Obituary" [by Pedro Pietri] was really important because it was talking about the struggle of Puerto Rican people to assimilate to this idea of The American Dream. And here we are with the island being so devastated and we're still not seen as American citizens — full American citizens who have fought in so many wars, who have contributed so much and built this country.

Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Alynda Segarra of Hurray for the Riff Raff.
Shore Fire Media

The poem "Puerto Rican Obituary" has a line that is especially significant to Segarra.

To communicate with their Latin soul. That to me really speaks to my journey with making this album. I felt like I, finally — as a 30-year-old Nuyorican woman — was able to speak to my Latino soul.

I feel like I'm speaking to the many different people that brought me to where I am today and paying my respects to them and also talking about the future of where we're going to go as a people.

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